Teaneck—A novel written in 1919 perfectly foretells the nature of Brier Rose Books, Howard Rose’s destination bookshop that is part of Teaneck’s streetscape at 450 Cedar Lane. Written by Christopher Morely in the aftermath of the First World War, The Haunted Bookshop pontificates on the sights and smells of that special kind of secondhand bookstore that barely existed anymore even then. How prescient he was: Rose’s bookstore is the only independent store of its kind in Bergen County.
“A gallery ran round the wall, which carried books to the ceiling. The air was heavy with the delightful fragrance of mellowed paper and leather...The shop had a warm and comfortable obscurity, a kind of drowsy dusk, stabbed here and there by bright cones of yellow light from green shaded electrics,” wrote Morely.
The bewhiskered Rose, who bears more than a passing resemblance to Morely’s bookstore hero/proprietor Roger Mifflin, left a long career in university administration at Cardozo School of Law, Columbia University School of Nursing, and others, to open the store. He wanted, above all, to have a place where he enjoyed going every day; so, in essence, the shop is a labor of love.
He looked at the open space of the empty shop 15 years ago and visualized instantly exactly where everything would go—unmatched bookcases, piled one atop the other, with curios and knickknacks placed into every available space, all the way to the ceiling. Wedged into book shelves and corners are marble eggs, a piano stool, an old globe, paintings, an 1800s-era spinning wheel, a 1900 map of Palestine, and a mounted piranha, among many other odds and ends. It’s a cheerful and whimsical labyrinth, a haven really, that true book lovers never want to leave.
“I wanted to create a place where people can kind of leave the rest of Teaneck, Bergen County, and New Jersey behind,” Rose told JLBC. A collector of books on the topic of the American Revolution, Rose has built subject areas lovingly and comprehensively. For example, biographies are arranged alphabetically, by the person they’re about, so as to encourage people to not just look at the biography they’ve heard about, but all the books written about a given person.
His large Judaica and African-American history sections draw repeat visitors seeking to find something new and different. The military section is divided into different wars, to make it easy for the reader to see everything available on a given topic. His children’s section is vibrant and comprehensive. The age of the books range from recently published to several hundred years old.
“I want people to browse and discover, to learn something new, even on topics in which they are knowledgeable,” Rose said. He said he doesn’t always know where a given book is when a customer calls, or even if he has it, which is why he encourages browsing. And every once in a while, everything lines up. “Someone came in asking for the (semi-recent) book, Abigail and John: Selected Letters of the Adams Family, and I reached to my right, a foot and a half away, and handed it to them. That has happened a few times,” he said.
Rose also said one of his primary aims is to keep his prices reasonable and competitive. Paperbacks cost $1 and hardbacks start at $2.50. “I want to keep them affordable so that a high school student can fill up a bag of books and not empty his wallet,” he said. Also, when he sells rare books online, which he does via AbeBooks.com, he ensures that the description is always valid based on condition, and that the price is better than anywhere else.
Attention to detail and honest business practices are a hallmark of this active community volunteer. Rose is an elected member of the Teaneck Board of Education and an appointed member of the Teaneck Planning Board. A fixture at Teaneck council meetings, Rose has lived in Teaneck for 34 years.
“I encourage people to stop by. It’s a fun thing to do on a Sunday afternoon. It’s a visual treat to browse here,” he said. Rose buys and sells used and rare books, and also has a selection of antiques and curiosities. Howard Rose and Brier Rose Books, at 450 Cedar Lane, can be reached at 201-836-5500.
By Elizabeth Kratz