The Isaac Mendoza Book Company, situated at 15 Ann Street in NY, NY, first opened its doors in 1894 making it the oldest bookstore in the city before it closed its doors for good on February 28, 1990. I worked downtown from 1986 to 1994, give or take, as an IT consultant for JP Morgan, and I would make a weekly pilgrimage from Wall St. to Ann Street, spending my lunch hour carried away on dreams made of wishes (thank you Tom Waits) in the Isaac Mendoza Book Company book store.
I used to be a rabid book buyer. Each Sunday for the 8+ years I lived in NYC was spent in bookstores. While I lived on 97th and Amsterdam, I would stroll across the Park to the Metropolitan Museum where I spent hours looking at whatever art moved me, after which I strolled down to Books & Co. on Madison. This went on for about 2 years and I still think about the Books & Co. manager asking me one Sunday if I’d read any Hölderlin. “No, I haven’t.” He’d been keeping on eye on my buying/reading habits and ushered me over to “H” in the fiction section where he picked out two books by Hölderlin and handed them to me. I said thanks and went up to pay and he just waved me out of the store. A gift.
When I moved downtown, first Read St. then Broadway between Broome and Grand, I moved my Sunday book shopping to West 18th Street and the Strand Rare Book Room. I also rented a car for the occasional road trip, traveling through NY State, Massachusetts, and Vermont on the hunt.
All told, the most magical mystical bookstore I had the pleasure to haunt was the Isaac Mendoza Book Company on 15 Ann Street. By the time I arrived, the store was down to two floors, located on floors 2 and 3 of the Ann St building. It used to be three floors, including the store front, but NY happened. Nonetheless, Mendoza Books was chock full, brimming to the point of breaking with secret treasures from centuries past. While there was some order, there were just too many books for the place to be orderly—books stacked a few deep on some shelves, vertically and horizontally, stacks stacked up on the floor in the aisles, with everything seemingly covered in a fine mist of mystery.
As a weekly goer, I got into the habit of browsing the New Arrivals section for obvious reasons. Here, one regular old day, I found a two volume first edition of Helena Petrovna Blavatsky’s Isis Unveiled: A Master-Key to the Mysteries of Ancient and Modern Science and Theology published in 1877. I was reading a lot of Yeats at the time, digging into his Reveries over Childhood and Youth and more, so I was on the lookout for Madame Blavatsky’s two-volume tome as she and William Butler hung out and did strange, mysterious things together.
I saw it sitting there on the New Arrivals shelf, all red brown and gold and mysterious and was nearly too excited to touch. Let alone look at the price. But touch I did and when I saw the $30/two volume note written in pencil on the front free end paper, I had to muffle a screech of delight. When I then saw that this copy went through occult book seller par excellence Samuel Weiser’s store at some point and was owned by Charles H. Macy, brother of RH Macy with the pencil-written note, “Not be loaned on account of opinions expressed herein”, $30 seemed like a gift. A spiritual annuity.
Suffice it to say, I did not find much meaning working in IT on Wall St. so my soul was hungry, near-on ravenous. The Isaac Mendoza Book Company, situated at 15 Ann Street NY, NY, filled me with wondrous contentment each visit whether I found something to take home or not. That day, meeting Madame Blavatsky in a store frequented by the likes of Buckminster Fuller and Christopher Morley set my imagination on fire, a fire which is rekindled each time I pull Isis off my shelf.