Robin’s Books to close

Robin's Books (established 1936), widely regarded as the city oldest independent bookstore, will close as of Dec. 31.
Robin's Books (established 1936), widely regarded as the city oldest independent bookstore, will close as of Dec. 31.
Posted: October 06, 2012

This time, it's final.

Robin's Books (established 1936), widely regarded as the city oldest independent bookstore, will close Dec. 31.

Forever. No mas. Finis.

That means the vibrant, idiosyncratic, bursting-at-the-intellectual-seams Moonstone Arts Center, housed upstairs with Robin's at 110A S. 13th St., is looking for a new home. Someplace. Location, if any, undecided.

"I've been having trouble persuading people we're really closing," says Paul Hogan, general manager of Robin's. "But it's really true this time. The [second-floor] space has a new tenant. The books will be gone. We have no other place to go."

Thus ends the gradual, graceful withdrawal of a city treasure, not only a business (2,000 square feet for books), but also (1,000 square feet) a community center, activist enclave, performance space, workshop, and networking clearinghouse for poets, teachers, musicians, and other artists.

Robin's was founded by David Robin - grandfather of Moonstone proprietor Larry Robin - on South 11th Street in 1936. David's sons Herman and Morris joined the business. In the 1960s, the store became, and remains, a center for the counterculture. (Hogan, an old Central High chum of Larry's, joined Robin's in 1964.)

In 1980, the store moved to South 13th Street, near Sansom. Larry and his wife, Sandy, founded Moonstone as a corporation in 1983. Besides the readings and gatherings at Robin's, Moonstone also runs a preschool at 750 S. 11th St.

Descent was step by step. In 2008, Robin's stopped selling new books, becoming a used-book store and website. In 2009, it moved upstairs with Moonstone. And now . . .

"Look," says Robin, "I'm going to be 70 in November. In December, Paul's going to be 75, and the store's going to be 76. This is our last hurrah."

"We've kept it going mostly through Larry's stubbornness and commitment to the community," says Hogan. "I've been working without a salary for a long time, and so has Larry. It may be time."

You couldn't tell that from the Moonstone website, crammed with events and shows for the rest of the year. Its renowned poetry readings continue, as do community events such as the "Mentor and Mentored" series: On Tuesday, University City High School teacher Sydney Coffin is to read with a few of his students. Author appearances continue, including Tori Hogan, Paul's niece, who will read from her book, Beyond Good Intentions: A Journey Into the Realities of International Aid at 7 p.m. Wednesday.

What of the historical programs, on people such as Thomas Paine, John Brown, poet/activist Frances Harper, and black activist and writer Martin Delany?

"Oh, we're going to keep on doing all that," says the irrepressible Robin. "It'll just be decentralized, that's all, at least at first. I'm looking for a new physical space. But we'll keep it all going."

It's no secret: Bookstores are shutting all over the country. The reorganization of contemporary arts and communications goes on. Besides the exit of Robin's, the mighty Chester County Book & Music Co. in West Chester announced in August that it planned to close. And the Barnes and Noble in Jenkintown will close at the end of the year.

"It's tough all over for independent bookstores," says Michael Fox, who runs Joseph Fox Bookshop at 1724 Sansom St. "You have Amazon and the other online mail-order houses, a Barnes & Noble around the corner, and now e-books."

But when a bookstore closes, much more goes away: a place and a community. "This was a place to hang out, meet people, talk about ideas," says Hogan, "and that's what I'll miss the most." Robin says, "The connections - there's nothing quite like it."

Artists in town mourned the end of Robin's and the relocation of Moonstone. Lynn Levin, a poet and Drexel University professor scheduled to do a "Mentor and Mentored" show Nov. 28, says she was "absolutely crushed" to hear the news.

"Larry Robin has helped put Philadelphia on the poetry map," Levin says. "I am eager to hear where his next venues will be. I will miss the old place like crazy."

Poet Diane Sahms-Guarnieri says, "I will always remember the great poetry readings and workshops held on South 13th Street." Poet G. Emil Reutter, who with Sahms-Guarnieri runs the Fox Chase Review, says that "the official end of Robin's Books leaves a hole in the heart of the city."

Larry Robin, with sparkling optimism, sees it differently.

"Books are 70 percent off starting Saturday, 80 percent off in November, 90 percent the first half of December, and so on," he says. "In early December, we'll throw a big party, part birthday party, part wake. And then in January - a big revival party."


Contact John Timpane

at 215-854-4406 or jt@phillynews.com, or follow

on Twitter @jtimpane.

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