American Brahman Bookstore

At some time in the late 1950s PB told my father and a group of friends that there would be a nuclear war and that they would be advised to leave the US (at least the major cities) as the fall out would be devastating.  My father, his brother Michael and a friend, Charlie Mira, bought some property in Ecuador and hired a mason to build a house there.  The missile crisis came and went and after deciding not to leave the country, my father still resolved to leave New York City.

In the summer of 1963 my father asked me (I was 20 years old at this time) if I would help support him and the family financially for a couple of years as he wanted to leave New York City and move to upstate New York.  I agreed and he began looking for a house in the Finger Lakes area where he eventually made contact with a realtor (Lymon Bond) in Hector and bought an old farmhouse and 65 acres of land.  In December of that year my father moved his family to Hector.  He remained in NYC along with my brother Jerry, who was in high school. My father had previously taken the civil service exam and was put on the wait list for a New York State Thruway job. I lived in the house in Hector, worked for Morse Chain in Ithaca and performed much needed maintenance on the old house while I lived there.

In June of 1964 Jerry graduated and joined the family in Hector.  Shortly afterward, my father was hired by the NYS Thruway and also moved to Hector. At this time the whole family lived at the house in Hector.  Jerry soon got a job at Sylvania in Seneca Falls and he and I helped to support the family for the next couple of years.

In January of 1966 I moved to California.  Sometime around September of that year I had some eye-opening experiences while under the influence of LSD that opened my mind and made me think my father wasn’t completely crazy.  I wrote to him and we began to correspond.  He recommended various books for me to read, which I did.  At that time I began to think about opening a bookstore in Ithaca with help from my father because I wanted to spread these ideas, so I started to save money.  Just before Christmas that year (1966) I spoke to my mother by phone.  She told me that they were financially strapped and had no money to buy gifts, or even clothes, for the boys so I sent her my savings ($2,000).  Shortly afterward, in January 1967, my father had a serious heart attack.  My mother sent me a telegram telling me that I should come home because my father’s condition was very serious. When I got to Hector my father was in the hospital in Watkins Glen and the initial prognosis wasn’t very good.  I had every intention of  returning to San Francisco but soon realized that my father was not going to be able to return to work for quite a few months and that the family would need financial and practical help.  I also realized at this time that there had been a change in my father’s nature.  So I then decided to stay in New York and in late January 1967 got a job at Goulds Pumps in Seneca Falls.  A few months later, when my father returned to work in Waterloo, we would drive together when he was scheduled for the third shift (11pm-7am) one week a month.  During those commutes we talked about my plans to open a bookstore in Ithaca.  I asked my father if he would help me by selecting the titles for inventory and cosigning for a small loan ($2,000) as my credit was not too good.  One evening, as my mother, father and I were sitting around the table talking about the loan, I said that I didn’t have a name for the store yet.  My mother said that PB had once called Anthony the American Brahman.  And I thought for an unusual kind of bookstore, an unusual name was the way to go.  And so it became the American Brahman Bookstore. 

I filed for a DBA as such and then on October 1, 1967 I rented a storefront on State Street in Ithaca.  I painted the store, built the bookshelves, the counter, etc.  I ordered books and opened the store on November 15, 1967 with a small inventory including maybe 40 to 50 of my father’s books.  Whatever money I received for my father’s books I gave to him knowing that my family’s financial needs were great.

Of course sales were sparse at first. I had expected this and had planned on paying the store rent from my salary, which I did for about two years. I worked the night shift (11:00 p.m. – 7:00 a.m.) at Goulds Pumps and in the morning came to Ithaca to open the store and was there until 5:00-6:00 p.m. every day.  I would then drive to Hector and sleep for a few hours.  During the first year I had help from different people - Sidney Piburn, Jim Boehman - who would occasionally watch the store and wait on customers, etc.  During this year people would come in, buy books and ask questions about them.  Being just recently introduced to many of these ideas myself, I didn’t not know how to answer these questions and so I asked my father if he would come into the store and talk to these people and he was more than glad to do it.  I told the people who wanted to meet with him when he would be coming to the store. For the next several months Anthony would come to the store when he could, depending on his work schedule (which, at the time was a rotating shift – one week 7a.m.-3p.m.; next week 3p.m.-11p.m.; third week 11p.m.-7a.m.) and, his still poor health. These visits were sporadic for the first few months.  As he got stronger, Anthony requested the third shift at work so that he could be available on a more regular basis for discussions at the store.  These discussions began with 8-10-12 people or so sitting around a large heating grate, smoking, talking and flicking cigarette butts into the grate.

 As the number of students increased we began to hold regular weekly seminars. Within a year or so there might have been forty to fifty students who regularly attended these seminars. 

At some point during this time Anthony began to invite his students over to his house in Hector for Sunday dinners.  Soon, there were some fifty or so people at these dinners.  In the following years there were approximately 3-4 classes a week being offered at the store – by Anthony as well as other members of the group, such as Lenny Silver and Richard Platek. 

I was still working at Goulds Pumps and at the store six days a week, still paying the rent for the store from my salary as well as contributing as much as I could to my mother and father’s household.  I quit my job at Goulds Pumps in April, 1970.  At this point I was completely exhausted and just couldn’t maintain this schedule any longer.  I lived in the back of the store for a couple of months and eventually got an apartment on Geneva Street in Ithaca. In late 1970 I moved the store two doors down the block because the landlord wanted to expand his own business and wanted my space so we switched stores.  The new space was smaller and couldn’t accommodate the numbers of people who were coming to the classes. At this time Anthony, I and some others began looking for a larger space in which to hold classes.  This is when the idea for Wisdom’s Goldenrod came about. After Wisdom’s Goldenrod was built Anthony and the students moved the classes to Hector, I believed that I would be losing a portion of my sales revenue and so I relocated the store again -onto the Ithaca Commons in order to attract new customers. At this point there were no more seminars or classes at the store.

           

Stephen Damiani

(Oldest son of Anthony and Ella May Damiani)