Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Lyrical Ballad Bookstore

What do booksellers do on their days off? We love to go to other bookshops, of course! And yesterday Dan and I gave ourselves a "perfect treat" to quote Virginia Woolf and visited John and Jan DeMarco of Lyrical Ballad Bookstore in Saratoga Springs. Lyrical Ballad has been a cornerstone of the downtown Saratoga retail scene for 35 years. The DeMarco's reputation as the deans of the Capital District used book world belies the warmth and graciousness of these colleagues, especially when we were utter book novices and peppered them with business questions.

Named after the Wordsworth poetry title, Lyrical Ballad Bookstore is a wonderful labyrinth of books. The shop is located at 7 Phila Street, right off Broadway, in the lower space of a former bank building. The original bank vault remains, but instead of being filled with bags of filthy lucre it is loaded with the rarest and scarcest book treasures.

The front rooms are stunning, lined with corniced wood shelves that frame the book jewels to great effect. The accompanying photos show the two bookcases I most covet, an antique revolving bookcase that looks like a castle turret and the glass-fronted bookcase of miniature books. And then there are the myriad of bookends above all the shelves for more biblio-frisson.

Lyrical Ballad specializes in books about art, dance, horses, history, classic literature and fine bindings, but it has just about every other kind of book category radiating off the entrance space. A roomful of antique prints lies in the back and I can't browse the Books about Books section without buying a volume or two. The DeMarcos also rent books for movie and stage sets (pay attention to the books in those Merchant and Ivory films) furnishing libraries for interior decorators and exhibiting at the Boston and New York Antiquarian Book Fairs.

About twenty years ago, John landed his Grey White Whale of book opportunities when a local antique dealer approached him about a trunk full of papers owned by an elderly client in the nearby hamlet of Gansevoort. The customer was a descendant of Herman Melville and it turns out that the "Moby Dick" author frequently visited his Gansevoort relations and spent much time writing and revising his work. The papers turned out to contain a large collection of family letters and heart-stoppingly, a handwritten, extensively corrected first draft manuscript of "Typee". These were sold to various public and private collections and it is safe to say that biographies and other scholarship about Melville using these items will continue for many, many years.

You must stop by Lyrical Ballad Bookstore whenever you are in the Saratoga Springs area. The store is open every day, with extended hours during the Summer Racing Season. You can contact the DeMarcos at (518) 584-8779 or send an email to: lballad@nycap.rr.com to find our more information.


Parisgirl said...

You're right. Lyrical Ballad Bookstore is a treasure trove. I found the poetry section to be ample. No visit to Saratoga Springs is complete without a visit here.

Miette said...

I'll have the opportunity to go here tomorrow, and this piece has my Pavlovian receptors drooling overtime. Thanks for the write-up!