The Alabama Bookstop Remembered By 14-year Employee John Cramer

Categories: Spaced City
Photo by Jim Parsons
​With the exception of legendary one-eyed bookseller Jim Brown, nobody knows the soon-to-shutter Alabama Bookstop better than John Cramer. The curmudgeonly guitarist in local psych-rock bands the Mike Gunn and Project Grimm worked there - mostly as the receiving manager - from 1994 to 2008, when he transferred to the Galleria Barnes and Noble. (There he took over receiving and set about solving mysteries for the Houston Police and starring on Inside Edition.)

"At its peak the place was really a focal point of the neighborhood," he says. He remembers the glory days of the strip mall, when Butera's anchored one end and Whole Goods and Cactus were in the middle. "You could go to Butera's and have a beer at lunch," he recalls. "We would always catch each other doing that and never acknowledge that we had seen each other.

In the early days, Cramer recalls, the store was one of the area's prime meat markets. "It was open until midnight and lots of people would come in to pick up, and that carried over a little bit after it was taken over by Barnes and Noble." But as busy as the customers got with each other, they had a long way to go to compete with the employees, Cramer remembers. "At any given time, half of us were screwing the other half, and then we would shift, like in volleyball."
Legendary Bookstop bookseller Jim Brown graces the cover of John Kramer's band's, The Mike Gunn, album A Dream About Jim

In the interest of disclosure, I must report that I worked there for a few months back in 1997 and 1998. (Back in '89, it was also the first place I ever picked up a copy of the Houston Press.) At one point in my term of employment, there came a red-letter day: I won a promotion from ordinary bookseller to magazine rack supervisor. On winning this plum position, Cramer told me I had august shoes to fill. One of my predecessors in that role, he said, was none other than Wes Anderson. I reminded Cramer of that today. "I had totally forgotten about that," he said. "I am pretty sure that's true. He was there before I was. There's that scene in Bottle Rocket where they rob the college bookstore, and I always wondered if he got that from working there."

Cramer did have brushes with fame there. Both Sterling Morrison (of the Velvet Underground) and Jandek were regulars, as were Billy Gibbons and Rudy T, and Ozzy Osbourne came in one night. "I think he was a vegetarian at the time, so he came in after going to Whole Foods," Cramer says. "He bought a book on genocide and another on venereal disease. He said the book on V.D. was for his daughter and was for informational purposes only, and he wanted everyone to know that although the book on genocide was for him, he was not a Nazi."

Lesser-known customers also made some memorable visits. One night one customer stabbed another with a pair of scissors. Another night Cramer encountered a homeless man talking on the lobby's pay phone. Or trying to - he was holding the receiver upside down, and gabbling into the earpiece. Cramer tried to intervene. "The guy kept giving me the 'hold on' finger," he says. "And then I heard him say 'I just want to speak to Ty Cobb.'"

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