Robin’s Books ends final chapter in Philly

Robin’s Books as been fading for a long time.

In 2007, the 76-year-old family business closed its satellite store and a few years later started selling only used books in a small second-floor shop above 13th Street.

Owner Larry Robin used half the space for books, the other half as a space for music, poetry, and literary discussion called Moonstone Art Center.

“I tried to be very careful in my language as we closed each thing,” said Robin. “We closed the 18th Street store. We closed the storefront and went out of the new book business. But it was always as a store closing, not a going-out-of-business.”

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This time, he means it. All the shelves are empty. The space is vacated. Robin’s Books has given up the ghost, due to a lethal combination of the Internet, giant chain bookstores, and eroding reading habits.

“It’s very schizophrenic — the economics of the business was horrible. We lost money for 30 years. I am not sorry to be out of the economics of running a bookstore that is not viable,” said Robin. “But I totally miss the connection between history and language.”

Robin may be out of the book business, but he is continuing in the culture business. The Moonstone Arts Center is now nomadic, programming poetry readings and historical symposia at venues around the city.

However, Robin says culture has always been book-based. Without a retail business, it will be more difficult to champion lesser-known writers.

“I could do Moonstone best because I had the book connection,” said Robin. “I would find someone in a catalogue and call them and say, ‘I see you have a new book coming out, do you want to do a program?’ Now, I will lose that connection with the emerging voice. Because I don’t have the mechanism to find them.

“I regret that. I don’t know how to replace that.”

Robin has partnered with Fergie’s Pub on Sansom Street to begin regular weekly poetry readings at the bar beginning in February.

In the meantime, Robin is organizing his next history festival based on the early Civil Rights activist Ida B. Wells, to be held in late January in 14 venues around Philadelphia.

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