As I walk in, I see a balding man with glasses moving toward the back of the store. Could only be Howard Schwartz, the marketing director and proprietor of the store. John and Edna Luckman first opened the store back in 1964, and the couple hired Howard early on. John passed away in 1987, and Edna continued to run the store until her death in 2003. (Here’s a website identifying John Luckman as one of the “first 100 persons who shaped southern Nevada” that tells the story of how the store came to be. To learn more about the GBC and about Howard, click here to listen to Lou Krieger’s excellent interview with Howard from last summer.)
Howard halts and asks me if I need any help, I say I’m just looking, and he disappears into the back. A young man in his early twenties sits by the cash register. Another occasionally appears among the shelves to place and arrange books. A television tuned to CNN alternates between two stories: a gunman has a hostage in the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, and Alec Baldwin has called his daughter a rude, thoughtless little pig.
The poker section occupies an entire wall. Above the shelves every inch of space is filled with framed photographs of poker pros and other celebrities. I move over and begin scanning through the hundreds of titles. Interspersed among the familiar spines I see several examples of the many privately-published books produced by the store, including some manuscripts that have simply been photocopied and spiral-bound. In addition to selling books, the GBC has also been a publishing house of sorts over the years, having produced 134 titles to date. Besides the large array of books on Hold ’em, Stud, and Omaha, there are several books devoted to Caribbean stud, three- and four-card poker, Pai Gow, Video Poker, and Badougi. There’s even a text called Crazy Pineapple High-Low Split.
I take my time moving through the other sections devoted to other casino games, sports betting, the history of Vegas, card and magic tricks, gambling-related videos, DVDs, and software, and more. A separate room houses used books and magazines. After about 40 minutes, I’ve selected a couple of David Spaniers and Bob Ciaffone’s Omaha Poker. Had considered really indulging, but one can always order titles from the Gambler’s Bookshop website, which also includes a catalogue of everything under their roof.
As I make my purchase I ask the young man if Howard is available. A quick check discovers he’s still on a call. I ask if it is okay to snap a few pictures. After a few minutes, Howard emerges. “So here’s our photographer,” he says with a handshake. I introduce myself and explain how I’d heard the Krieger interview and had to check the place out. “So now you can go back and tell all your friends to come to the nice store where they give you a lollipop and a bottle of water,” he says. What’s that? Next thing I know, Howard is literally offering me a lollipop and bottle of water. I take both.
We chat a bit more and -- as Wade had predicted -- he takes me back to show me some of the old archives he’s kept over the years. I mention the blog and how I’ll probably write about the visit, and he quickly retrieves a copy of Jesse May’ The Gambler’s Guide to the World and makes a photocopy of May’s write-up of the store for me to take with me. He then shows me the stacks of clippings he’s collected over the years, all destined for what May describes as “a filing cabinet that would be the envy of any newspaper chief in the world.” Howard is himself a walking encyclopedia of gambling and Vegas history -- he considers himself a “librarian for gamblers” -- and has made his knowledge and vast resources available to many writers over the years.
I ask Howard if I can take his picture. “You want me to hold up a book?” he asks. He grabs three.
You might notice The Education of a Poker Player among the books he is holding. I mention to him I had read Yardley’s book recently. (Here’s my post about it.) As we move back out into the store we talk about Yardley and the Black Chamber, and he leads me back over to the history section to show me a biography of the codebraker-slash-poker player.
We start to move toward the door, and Howard commends me for wearing a hat since rain is in the forecast. He also suggests watching my wallet if I plan to do a lot more walking in the area. I thank him and the others, then make may way back out onto 11th and over to Las Vegas Blvd. to catch the Deuce back uptown.
Yet another highlight in a week full of ’em. Do check out the GBC if yr in Vegas. Might even score a Black Cherry Charms Blow Pop, if you play your cards right.
Labels: *on the street