Mourning a Cultural Hub Disguised as a Used Bookstore
By PETER APPLEBOME via The New York Times
METUCHEN, N.J. — Even admirers concede it was always a stretch to imagine a combination literary bookstore, avant garde cultural center and family-friendly guerrilla street theater emporium here on Main Street. So Alex Dawson’s seven-year run at the Raconteur, which will come to an end on Jan. 31, was about seven years longer than anyone should have expected.
Still, more than just another bookstore is closing in Mr. Dawson’s plans to shut down his eerily orderly kingdom of antiquated arcana with the scrap-metal Don Quixote statue out front. The Raconteur bucked the awful economy, the impossible economics of the book business and the big-box magnets sucking life from suburban downtowns. Even if he went out on his own terms, that seems small consolation to adherents.
“It was like the least cynical place on earth,” said Mike Edison, a Metuchen native and a writer, editor and musician. “There’s no way you could possibly have turned that trick and ended up rich, but he turned it into a kind of clubhouse for the community and somehow it worked.”
Mr. Dawson, now 41, had quite a full life going on when he decided to create a bookstore on the order of Shakespeare & Company in Paris or City Lights in San Francisco. He grew up in New Jersey and then on an Alabama horse farm. He studied art at Rutgers and had traveled widely and worked as a bartender, bouncer, playwright and artistic director of the Bon Bock theatrical company on the Lower East Side when he heard in 2003 that the desultory secondhand bookstore in Metuchen where he lived was up for sale.