Applause Books, an Upper West Side theater mainstay, plans to shutter
On Saturday, July 30, 2005, the monster sale ends and the applause stops. As of that date, Applause Books, in the words of the man who founded it and run it for 25 years, “is history.” Kaput. Gone away. Closed.
If you want to know why—and quite a few lovers of theater certainly do—it all came to a head the day this past winter that a well-dressed young woman descended the 16 steps at 211 West 71st Street, just off the corner of Broadway, and marched herself into Glenn Young’s bookshop.
“A designer-dressed young woman,” as Young tells it over a morning cup of coffee. “She didn’t know plays, she didn’t know authors, she didn’t know titles. She went around and gathered up a large armful of books, and when I said, ‘Can I ring these up for you?’ she looked surprised and said, ‘Oh, you mean I can’t just check them out like at the library?’
“I was willing to give my time, my energy, and do without pay, but when a woman far better-dressed than anybody who ever worked in my bookshop is asking if she could have a batch of books for free, I made the decision to stop the whole thing.”
The monster sale, which began in March, runs month by month until the closing. Through June 10, all purchases adding up to $50 or more earn a 50-percent discount. Thereafter, all sales totaling $60 or more get a $60 discount.
Applause Books wasn’t just a bookstore, a vital New York City source of works “on all aspects of theatre, film, and dance.” (Maybe Glenn Young’s deep-buried prime mistake was to spell “theatre” that way, the civilized “re” way.) Applause was also a vital theatrical publishing house, its 500 titles glorified by three collections of the drawings and paintings of Broadway’s great Al Hirschfeld.
“Al had the ability,” says Young, “to see the spine of a play as the creators themselves often didn’t quite grasp. When they saw what he’d drawn they’d say: ‘Yes, that’s what we want… ’ Sometimes a director would miss the mark, sometimes an actor would miss the mark, but Al Hirschfeld never missed the mark.”
Young sold off 70 percent of the publishing operation three years ago, and the rest last year, but under a new imprint, Glenn Young Books, he will bring out “Hirschfeld’s British Isles” in the fall, and a new Working Arts Library will plunge into DVD and video operations.
The list of actors, writers, scholars, authors and others who have appeared over the years in readings or performances at Applause is long and impressive, from Stella Adler to (alphabetically) Lanford Wilson, with what seems like everybody in the world in between.
Glenn Young blames nobody for the demise of Applause Books, not his landlord, not his banker, not the huge chain bookstores like Barnes & Noble or Borders, or other corporate monoliths. Yet in a sense he blames, well, everybody. Cheerfully blames, you might say. He absolutely declines to cry woe.
“The only reason we’re closing is because people stopped coming,” he says.
Over that cup of coffee he further said, “Twenty years ago, our regulars shopped for books the way Imelda Marcos shopped for shoes. They might come in looking for ‘The Cherry Orchard’ and end up buying five or six different ‘Cherry Orchids.’ Today there is not the same appetite for just reading.”
Everything, of course, or what seems like everything, is now available over the Internet. Even I, said I, use the Internet to look up things like, say, a certain poem by E.E. Cummings or Dylan Thomas. “So do I,” said Glenn Young, “but my bookshop used to be a sort of communal meeting place. Now everything is much more laser-driven, almost as if the shop has become an Internet site where they push the buy button and that’s all they want.”
Some people have said: “Glenn, if you just set all this up on the Internet, you’d be fine.”
His response: “I have no interest in that. It’s like going to the theatre on the Internet, like going to church on television.”
Glenn Young, who was born in Chicago on January 28, 1953, came out of Yale and Yale Drama intending to be a playwright.
“My dad, Mike Young, an architect who’d studied with Mies Van der Rohe, designed a hundred school buildings in Chicago. My mother, Julie Young [both parents are alive and well], was chief of floral design for Marshall Fields on State Street. Some people are born to sit by the phone and wait. I am not one of those people. It would drive me nuts. I was writing and sending out plays, and can still remember the scraping sound of the mailbox when they were returned to me. I’m simply not cut out to be a suppliant.”
One day in 1980 he was walking uptown from some commedia he’d just seen when, next door to his favorite bar, McGlade’s (now defunct), Columbus Avenue at 67th, he saw a FOR RENT sign.
“A man came out of the door and said: ‘If you’re interested in that property, talk to me.’ And that property is where Glenn Young launched his bookstore. “On my way through the door I thought of the name ‘Applause,’ expecting I’d later pick a better name. Which of course I never did.”
In 1985, with the original site facing demolition, he moved bag and baggage to 71st Street. He lives one block away, with the lady of his life, Helen Kim, the head of Creative Edge, a service that broadens career opportunities for classical musicians.
No, he resolutely does not blame his landlord. “My landlord, Larry Ingenito, is a prince. My attorney suggested that my landlord might not want to be known as a nice guy. Larry said: ‘Please, call me a nice guy.’”
And now? Now, Glenn Young, who in the past has taught advanced playwriting and script analysis at Columbia and Wesleyan, would like to return to teaching.
“Every culture has a right to its own constituents,” he says. “Well, the culture has shifted. When you see a dream evaporate… ”
Young isn’t waiting for the scrape of script against mailbox, or for a well-dressed young woman to pay cash for six different versions of “The Cherry Orchard.” Unless, of course, she wants to do it right now, at a 50 percent discount… 60 percent as the door is closing …
Applause Books at 211 West 71st Street (212-496-7511) is open Monday-Saturday, 10 a.m.-8 p.m. and Sunday, noon-6 p.m.