written by Lynn

The ABC started in 1972 after Mitch Crossfield and Sam Boltansky, who knew each other from Baltimore, came to Amsterdam in 1971 and saw the lines of English-speaking tourists outside Madame Tussaud’s on the Kalverstraat, then one of the busiest shopping streets in Europe.

They went to the jewelry shop next door and asked if they could rent it. After some negotiation, an agreement was reached. Sam sent over a lot of remainder books from Baltimore that he had bought up from various publishers. Mitch moved to Amsterdam to start the store.

They didn’t refurbish the space, just took the jewelry cases out and placed book and magazine shelves on top of the old carpeting. There was just one sales floor at first, with an office closed off in the back. A one-way mirror in the door allowed Mitch to look into the store, but customers couldn’t see him. We used to laugh at the number of people who would use that mirror, combing their hair or picking their nose in earnest…. It was also a little disconcerting. They’d walk right up to the mirror and start grooming, unaware that we were two feet in front of them, working.

The store opened in April 1972 at Kalverstraat 158, with the expectation that most of the customers would be those same American tourists who lined up outside Madame Tussaud’s, then located next door. But many Dutch people started coming in, asking for American books, especially sci-fi titles. Listening to their wishes, we reached out to a distributor in the US who soon supplied us with the latest fiction, crime and sci-fi books as they were released.

Initially, the store was registered as the American Discount Book Magazine Poster Importation and Retail Centers, BV, and indeed in the beginning we also sold a lot of products besides books and magazines. Rolls of film were popular, as were vinyl LP’s and postcards. Our best-selling postcards were made by Sam and Mitch themselves.

After a trip to the Red Light district, Amsterdam’s most popular tourist attraction at the time, they realized there were no postcards featuring the area available for purchase. Mitch was a good photographer, so they went back to the district with a camera and several release forms and asked a couple of sex workers for permission to pose for postcards in return for payment.

One photo of Sam taken from behind as he stood in front of a window with a well-clad woman and an international newspaper sticking out of his rear pocket was titled “Window Shopping in Amsterdam.” We sold them for 30 cents each, four for one guilder. Because no one else sold anything like it and we didn’t wholesale the cards, sales of this high-margin item boomed. We actually paid a whole year’s rent on the Kalverstraat just from the sale of those postcards! Here’s one of them.

What do you think? Should we re-issue them? Let us know here!