Written by Lynn

I remember meeting Joe for the first time during the summer of 1973 in Amsterdam. Mitch Crossfield, one of our two founding partners, had gone off for vacation. The next morning, a young American boy of about 22 with a full black beard and long, straight, coarse black hair tied into a long ponytail was there in the store. He didn’t say much. Sam Boltansky, the other founding partner, called later in the day from Baltimore to say, “I sent Joe over to take care of things.” True to his mission, Joe is still taking care of things at the American Discount Book, Magazine, Poster, Retail Center – aka The ABC – nearly 40 years later.

Thank you, Joe:

• for coming over from your job at the bookstore of Sam’s sister Shirley, where you worked while studying at John Hopkins University. You, alone among the staff, had a passport. After that first summer job, you worked at Shirley’s store until Sam asked you to come over and work at a new American Discount Book Center, to be opened in The Hague. Sam had bought former owner Mitch out and put Leo Bretholz in charge of the Amsterdam store in 1975. Leo had previously run one of Sam’s other stores in Baltimore.

• for bunking in our attic room on the van Boetzelaerstraat in Amsterdam until the Hague store got started and you found a room to rent there. You were a Garfield fan back then, and—like your hero—were easy to please with a huge plate of lasagna. You and Avo competed, heaping your plates with pasta or rice and sauces to see who could eat it all up.

• for helping to mop the shit off the floor in the new store location. We rented the basement of a building owned by Jaap Kronenberg at Spuistraat 72 in The Hague. It had a large display window surrounding the street level entrance, which followed a stairway to the magical book-filled hideaway you created there.

• But back to the shit…. Sam had loaded up a 40-foot container with everything needed for the inside of a bookstore — racks, books, lighting and even mops, brooms and buckets. He brought his helper, Thomas, with him. We hired two local carpenters who brought their dog, and you and I and Avo, who was not yet involved with the company, along with Willem de Vries and my brother Mark Buller, turned the cellar into a bookstore within about a week. The upstairs neighbor’s sewage pipe had burst. Although repaired, the dried smurry had not been cleaned up. I thought it was disgusting, but Sam was ecstatic. “This is going to be a gold mine! What good luck—look at all this shit!!!”  What first seemed like a fake way to get others to clean up a mess was genuine. He explained that, in his circles, shit was seen as fertilizer and a good luck omen. Being shat upon by a bird would make a person’s day, for instance. The muck was soon cleaned up and the store open for business. We sold lots of science fiction and paperback fiction, which Sam sent over, mostly unordered, in bulk. The cash register block was a Lundia rack, later scarred by cigarette burns. You all smoked then, but sometimes when a cigarette was put aside to cash out a purchase, a conversation ensued, the cigarette forgotten until the wood started to give off fumes.

• for listening to the customers, then and now. In those early days, you ran the store alone. If you needed to pee, you locked the door quickly and ran upstairs. You ate your sandwiches behind the cash register. Your days were long. Later, when we were able to obtain publishers’ catalogues, you’d let certain customers take a catalogue home and mark up their orders. The sci-fi customers were often collectors, and you knew just who collected Philip K. Dick or Frederik Pohl or Anne McCaffrey’s works. You collected books about King Arthur and the court of Avalon yourself.

• for becoming the personification of the store in The Hague. I counted once, while walking with you from the store to the bank, as 15 people greeted you personally over the three-block walk.

• for moving The Hague store aboveground to Lange Poten 23 in 1992.

• for the books you’ve touched and offered to others, for the stores and projects you’ve set up and run and broken down, for the cash you’ve counted and recorded and brought to the bank, for the customers whose grandchildren now come to you for book advice, for being the steady factor that helped American Discount become ABC. You’ve given your adult lifetime, centered on the company.

There’s much more, but that’s for the next chapter.
Thank you, Joe.