Hurricane Sandy vs. Argosy Book Store (update)

Fourteen months ago, I blogged about the damage that Hurricane Sandy did to my family’s book store — the Argosy. Remember when these bricks fell off the adjacent building and crashed through our roof and caused lots of flooding which damaged rare merchandise? Well, it just occurred to me that I never posted an update, so here you go.

Let’s start with a four-part photo of some damaged books:


You know what? “Damaged” isn’t the right word; “ruined” is more like it. I photographed all this stuff for insurance purposes. Thankfully the other building’s insurance company paid for everything, but we still had to do an insane amount of work, including dealing with all the framed items that had gotten soaked. See all the empty frames below?


Some of them were able to be salvaged, but the mattes were trashed:


Those last two pics were taken in the 2nd-floor gallery. That’s where we have all the antique maps and prints, along with our framing department. There was no damage there; it’s just where we brought the damaged frames to be dismantled.

Meanwhile, this was the scene in the First Editions department on the 5th floor:


In the photo above, that’s my cousin Ben (who has worked full-time at the Argosy since 1999). He was inspecting every book and placing the damaged ones on the floor.

FYI, the Argosy has six floors, and the flooding went all the way down to the 4th-floor office, speaking of which . . . look what was in the freezer in the lunch room:


Remember these Thomas Jefferson documents? Yeah, we stuck them in there to halt the spread of the water damage, literally by freezing it. More on that in a bit, but first, look what happened the following day:


Let me explain: our roof had just been patched up, and then it rained like hell, and the ceiling in the Autograph department on the 6th floor started leaking again.


This time we scrambled to move *all* the merchandise away from that portion of the room, and by the end of the day, the Autograph department looked like this:


Of course, we kept discovering more ruined items, some of which we hadn’t noticed after the first round of flooding. Here’s a book with a fresh coating of mold . . .


. . . and here’s another that “bled” all over the inside of the dust wrapper:


Here’s a book that was signed by someone you’ve probably heard of:


Although Shirley Temple’s signature survived the storm, the outside of the book suffered some water damage.

Here’s something else that got messed up:


That’s a game-worn pair of uniform pants, autographed by Doc Gooden and stained on the crotch. By the way, I still have these pants, and I’m thinking about giving them away as a charity prize this year. What do you think? Even with the stain, it’s still a really cool item, right?

Anyway, several days later, an insurance inspector came to look at all the damage. Here he is on the roof with Ben and my mom (who has worked full-time at the Argosy since 1958):


Here he is with Ben on the 5th floor:


As you can see, we had draped plastic sheets over the shelves because there was STILL water trickling down.

Twenty-four hours later, this was happening on the 6th floor:


As you can see . . .

1) Most of the green felt wallpaper had been removed.
2) Workmen were dismantling bookshelves and other stuff.
3) The ceiling was STILL leaking, and buckets were set up to catch the water.

Three days later, a different set of workmen ripped a chunk out of our soggy ceiling:


In the photo above, did you notice the plastic sheets in the background, behind the glass partition? Here’s a better view of the back of the Autograph department:


Here’s some of the stuff that had to be demolished — mostly old book shelves and large pieces of drywall:


Here’s a photo that I took the following day — November 14, 2012:


Did you notice the remaining portion of the carpet?

It was still soaked.

Here’s another photo of the Autograph department:


All that plastic was there to protect everything when the ceiling got patched up and painted. See the ladder up above? That’s pretty much where I normally sit and work.

Here’s what the 5th floor looked like:


On November 16, 2012, there was an article about the Argosy in the New York Times . . .


. . . which prompted a film crew from CBS News to do a segment on the damage. Here’s my aunt Judy being interviewed:


Here’s my mom showing the Thomas Jefferson documents to the camera . . .


. . . and here’s my other aunt Adina being interviewed outside in the “arcade”:


By the way, those Jefferson documents — Acts of Congress that he had signed as Secretary of State — were eventually sent to a professional restorer.

After some demolition on the 5th floor (which lasted several days) . . .


. . . Ben and another employee named Neil boxed up *all* the books in the First Editions department:


All those books had been shelved alphabetically by author, so they tried to keep everything in order.

Here’s where the boxes ended up:


They sat there for several weeks, during which the room was completely renovated. The following photo shows the new floor, along with several shelving units:


When the shelves were installed, guess who single-handedly re-shelved ALL the books.

Yep . . . me.

Here’s a photo that I took during the weeklong process:


The biggest challenge was leaving a uniform amount of space at the end of each shelf. Obviously, because of all the books we’d lost, it would’ve been dumb to shelve the remaining volumes as tightly as possible. If I did that, we would’ve been left with a whole wall of empty space, so I tried to plan it out. No, I didn’t get it right the first time. Yes, I had to reshuffle lots of books to make it fit just right.

By the end of 2012, the 4th-floor office was in the process of being emptied . . .


. . . and so was the entire Autograph department on the 6th floor:


We crammed most of the stuff into storage rooms, which were already cluttered to begin with. Look at this mess:


Here’s what the office looked like on January 10, 2013:


Yeah, it was sealed off for asbestos removal!! That’s why we had to empty it out — and that’s why we had to do the same thing on the 6th floor. You see, when the carpeting upstairs was removed, it exposed a layer of old, crappy tiles which began to curl up at the edges and reveal a small trace of asbestos — not enough to be harmful, but enough that we were legally obligated to eliminate it.

Meanwhile, the 6th floor had been stripped bare:


Here’s another photo of it:


So sad. But hey, at least we didn’t have to pay for any of this, and I knew that everything would end up looking much better . . . eventually.

By January 15, 2013, the Autograph department had a new floor:



Here’s another photo:


Of course it was nearly impossible to breathe up there. The paint fumes were overwhelming, and there was sawdust covering everything.

Once the asbestos had been removed from the office, the 4th-floor renovation got underway:


Because the new floor in the Autograph department had to be varnished and then left to dry, we weren’t able to start putting things back in place until February 14, 2013. Here’s a photo of my mom watching two of our longtime employees, Byron and Juan, reassemble a pair of large metal racks:


While all of this was happening, would you believe that we were *still* discovering damaged items? Check out all the mold in this book . . .


. . . which had been signed by Andy Warhol:



Here’s a random photo of some 6th-floor clutter, just because:


Here’s what the 4th-floor office looked like on February 21, 2013:


Nice, huh?

Check out this before-and-after comparison:


Nearly one month later, the construction in the Autograph department was still dragging on. Here are two workmen hauling in a new bookshelf on March 18, 2013:


Those guys also installed a big storage unit:


Can you imagine how long it took us to sort through all the clutter and merchandise and put it all back where it belonged? It took months, which is why I neglected to blog about it. By the time everything was fully operational, the 2013 baseball season was well underway, and my life was being pulled in a different direction.

Fast-forward to January 2014. Here’s what the First Editions department on the 5th floor now looks like:


Here’s a current photo of the Autograph department on the 6th floor:


Here’s another photo of the back:


Finally, here’s a shot of the main floor (which never suffered any storm damage):


Come visit sometime. I promise you’ll like it, and I might even be there to say hi.


  1. James Lee

    Assuming you got reimbursed for not only fixing the damages but for lost revenue, the headaches of fixing the store was worthwhile, since the store looks nicer now that it has been updated.

    The Gooden pants would be a great prize, with the added history of the flooding!

  2. Zack Hample

    DENNIS B.-
    Thanks. I think there are 16 employees, though several work part-time. There’s a cleaning guy, for example, who comes in for like four hours a day, three times a week. And so on.

    Yeah, well, if you think of it like that, then it was worth it, although the stress was monumental. It’s hard to figure out how much money THAT would be worth. I’ll think about the Gooden pants. I’m leaning toward doing it. I’m sure that would be the No. 1 prize that everyone would hope to win.

    Parking in midtown? Ha. Ha. Ha. I do hope you try again soon.

    Thanks for reading (and feeling my pain). I like your handle, by the way.

  3. Garrett Meyer

    Cool post! Yeah, I was curious to see how things turned out — especially after visiting last summer. The bookstore is super interesting for anyone. I hope your Mom is feeling much better about the store after all this… I can’t imagine the stress she had to deal with. Roughly how many autographed books did you have to throw out?

  4. Larry

    Glad to see the store is doing better. Next time I come to NYC I look forward to visiting the store longer than I did this summer. We came in right when it was about to close………

  5. Zack Hample

    Thanks. Nice to hear from you. My mom is feeling great now, but man, she was demoralized 14 months ago. I don’t know the exact number of books that got tossed — probably 50 to 100 just from the Autograph department and hundreds more from the First Editions room.

    What’s up! Yes, definitely come earlier in the day so you have more time to explore.

    From a pedestrian/tourist standpoint, being on 59th Street is a *great* location for the store. It’s close to the subway and to Bloomingdale’s, and it’s less than a 10-minute walk from Central Park, but for people in their cars, it’s a disaster — easy to get to, but absolutely no place to park.

  6. Mateo Fischer

    I was actually planning to make a stop by the Argosy on my latest trip to New York just a couple of days ago, but sadly the timing just didn’t work out. Or at least I figured–and was partially persuaded by Greg–that you would most likely not be in the time I had available on the morning of New Year’s Eve. Hopefully next time I can make a stop by.

  7. kslo69

    Do you have any “after” photos of the Jefferson documents? I’d be interested to see how they turned out after restoration.

  8. Big Glove Bob

    You guys stock any porn in there? If not, Ol BGB will never darken your door.

    Big Glove Bob

  9. Zack Hample

    Thanks very much. Come and check it out sometime.

    Whaaaaaaaaat? Sorry to have missed you here in NYC, but Greg was right: December 31st was an off day for me.

    I don’t have any photos, but I’ll look for them on Monday and maybe snap a few pics.

    We have a “curiosa” section. Good enough?

  10. Garrett Meyer

    I second what kslo69 said. Tweet a before/after photo of the restored docs if you can!
    By the way, Bob, I have a feeling porn won’t be hard to find in NYC. hah!

  11. Big Glove Bob

    Zack- Curiosa is good enough! Not quite as good as say stocking vintage Hustler or Poon Hound mags, but close enough.


  12. hiZ

    say hi or get high/? can u put up padreleigh and TC ,if the chargers go 3 more wins ,then we are super bowl bound,we have some counterfeit tickets to unload ,Are you affiliated with Argosy university? GET shelf builders to fix up ben weils apt,

  13. Zack Hample

    Okay, I’ll do it, but I need another day or two. I actually don’t know where they are, so I need to wait for my mom to show me, and we’ve both been really busy lately.

    We don’t stock those items, but we’ve had plenty of that stuff pass through over the years. My favorite story: about a decade ago, we went to box up thousands of books from someone’s home, and when we got there, a sizable portion were already packed by the person who was overseeing the estate. Later that week, my mom and her sisters went through all these boxes at the store and were quite surprised to discover that one of them was packed with gay porn magazines from the 1980s and 1990s. (No, we didn’t sell these mags at the store.)

    Are you seriously considering coming to New York for the Superbowl if your team makes it? No connection to Argosy University. As for Ben Weil, I wonder if he’d even want new shelves; he has sold lots of stuff and seems to know exactly where everything is.

  14. Ben Weil

    You’d be surprised by how different my apartment looks now. There ARE shelves up, and jerseys look more organized. But i would never want anyone to rearrange my stuff, since i am the only one who knows exactly where everything is!

  15. Zack Hample

    I have to say . . . I was very impressed with how quickly you found everything when I was there last time.

    What’s with this Google nonsense? I clicked the link, and it tried to make me log in. Can you upload the photo to

  16. Ben Weil

    It’s a replica jersey, with no meaning. Simply for retail sale. It’s like when they make baseballs with commemorative logos they never use- same thing.

  17. Ginger Baker

    But did you save the magazines to use in wallpapering your apartment? THAT’S the important question! (As I recall from that blog post, the answer is sadly: missed opportunity!)

  18. Zack Hample

    First of all, thanks for commenting, and second, I have to ask: did you stumble upon my blog because of the “decorating with magazines” entry? To answer your question, the storm didn’t affect the wallpaper project or my apartment in any way. There are only a few magazines at the store — mostly vintage stuff on the first floor that didn’t get damaged.

  19. Ginger Baker

    I figured out the path I took to your blog: photo of Catasaurus. Comments saying “needs banana for scale”. Google for the meaning of that. Search for “first use of banana for scale” led me to a reddit thread about your rubber band ball. Comment there had a link about the magazine wall decor and BAM here I am. :)

  20. Zack Hample

    Ahh, good ol’ Reddit — my favorite website in the world. That whole banana thing was silly, but I’m glad you found me. Now I have to find a way to get you to care about baseball. Hmm . . .

  21. Big Glove Bob

    I bet that insurance adjuster just about tipped over when he realized what he had gotten into. He probably heard “damage at a bookstore” and thought he would be going out to write a check for a little property damage and a pallet of Dr. Phil books. Little did he know that he would be dealing with one of a kind historical artifacts.

    Big Glove Bob

  22. Zack Hample

    Ha! Totally.

    I like a good challenge. (How would you feel about moving our conversation over to email since it seems there are things to discuss that might not be relevant to this blog/entry?)

  23. yankee

    Wow, I never realized just how much damage there really was. Did you ever think you wouldn’t be able to fix it all?

  24. Zack Hample

    Part of me is like, “Sure, why not?” The other part is like, “Eh, all 30 stadiums in one season AGAIN?” I’m pretty sure that BIGS is done with me. I had a great time with them, but it looks like it was a one-shot deal.

  25. Nick Larson

    Yikes, good thing the insurance covered everything I have been to Argosy before and think it is very cool

  26. Zack Hample

    Thanks! I’m glad to hear that.

    Sorry it took a while, but I have some before/after photos of the Thomas Jefferson autographs. Here’s one of the restored documents:

    You might think it looks great, and okay, yeah, at first glance, it kinda does, but here’s a side-by-side comparison of the restored signature (on the left) versus one that didn’t need to be restored (on the right):

    As you can see, the ink in the signature on the left is thinner and paler. Also, it’s hard to tell in the photo, but the restored paper itself has lost much of its texture. It looks newer and less antique, which is bad.

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