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Midnight Special Opens New Chapter

By Juliet McShannon
Special to The Lookout

Nov. 9 -- On a gray Sunday afternoon, a curious group of passersby gather round a crime scene. A woman lies face down, an axe protruding from her back.

She is draped in the American flag and holds a torch in her left hand. Above her suspended in an arc, hang numerous axes with different inscriptions such as "Endless War" and "Cost of Occupation."

It's good to know that some things never change. This is yet another thought-provoking, controversial window display that has become synonymous with the Midnight Special Bookstore, which reopened on Second Street last week.

Eight months after being forced off of the Third Street Promenade by escalating rents, owner Margie Ghiz, is cautious about the new move, the fourth so far for the counter-culture bookstore started in Venice at the height of the Vietnam War.

“I am not optimistic or unoptimistic," Ghiz says. "The rent and expenses are actually proving to be higher than on Third Street Promenade. It really is a case of wait and see.”

However; her loyal employees are hopeful that its new home, despite being much quieter than its former Promenade location, will continue to attract customers.

" People are beginning to get the word," says employee Bill Glass. In fact, he added, 5,000 loyal customers signed up to be notified on-line for the store's opening day.

There is a festive atmosphere, almost like that of a homecoming, that fills the store on its opening weekend, as some fifty customers browse the bookshelves and slap each other on the back like long-lost friends.

Nearly all the former employees, including those who found other work while a new location was being sought, are back. So are the old customers, who once again can climb the ladders along the towering stacks to fetch a hard-to-find volume with an alternative slant.

"It's wonderful to be back," says loyal customer Naomi Snider. "I volunteered to help them move from Third Street. This is much better. I hated going to Third Street. All that corporate repression."

The new premises at 1450 Second Street are slightly bigger, with more room between the bookshelves, which are illuminated by eight skylights that flood the store with natural light, giving it a more airy feel.

"There was a certain charm to the narrow stacks of the old store," says customer Lars Oleson, "but at least they've retained the ladders, and I love the light."

But while it seems like business as usual for Midnight Special, some things have changed -- including shorter hours at the quieter location.

"We used to close at eleven," says employee Daniel Kusunoki, "but there isn't much movement on this street in the evenings, so for now we are closing at nine during the week."

The trademark discussion forums will continue to be held in the cultural center at the back of the store in January. "We already have a long list of groups to accommodate," says Kusunoki. "The delay in relocating has caused quite a backlog".

If the new location lacks the foot traffic generated on the Promenade, it has "Jinky's," the wildly popular eatery situated directly across the store.

"I was drinking my morning coffee across the street and saw the crazy window display," says first-time customer Michael Burton, who is new to the area. " I just had to wander over and browse."

Burton vows to spread the word. "I think the eclectic mix of books is just great," he says. "I like the slightly edgy feel to the store. I'll bring some of my friends next time."

To show appreciation for the time, effort and monetary contribution of so many people, Ghiz will be holding an official ‘Grand Opening Celebration Party’ on November 23rd.

“Everyone is invited”, she says. “What I have realized is that this moving experience has really been a division of labor within the community, and that you are in partnership with the community.

"The Friends of the Midnight Store raised a large amount of money, and there have been so many wonderful volunteers, such as carpenter Charles Fredericks, who donated about six to seven thousand dollars worth of his time fixing up our bookshelves. I am just so thankful.”
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