Survivors of the Lost Village: James Drougas

By Roger Paradiso

JAMES DROUGAS OF UNOPPRESSIVE NON-IMPERIALIST BARGAIN BOOKS, 34 Carmine Street, Greenwich Village. Photo by Roger Paradiso
James Drougas always loved books. “When I was 12 years old, I used to visit a small book shop on Main Street in Patchogue, Long Island and decided early I wanted to make a career of it.”

“I am trying to be a space that offers unknown treasures at irresistible prices that lures people from around the world into interests they sometimes didn’t even know they had. I try to make it entertaining and especially amusing…. (Books are) always below half normal price, but also a very careful range of gems from what is available at these prices… Books for children, seekers, cultural adepts, utopian anarchists, non-violent revolutionaries, democratic socialists, alternate historians, Feminists, prophets, poets, filmmakers.”

I ask if he has any famous customers? “Patti Smith is the most loyal famed visitor, always peeking in at our William Blake books. We have had so many with some regularity in the past.  Irwin Corey was a great friend, Allen Ginsberg and Paul Krassner in our earlier days, Susan Sarandon, Tim Robbins, Richard Gere, Yoko and Sean Lennon, Sam Shepard, Jimmy Page, Mike Myers, Amy Poehler, all so enthused about the shop.”

I ask Jim what he is doing now to survive in the Village? “For many years I have had sub-tenants to keep alive paying the rent.  I have also had more than a few generous patrons who have been extra generous at times. Many customers come by with some regularity saying out loud they want to do their part to support the shop.”

When I last visited the shop weeks ago, I saw a new neon sign in the window. Jim has taken on a Psychic Reader in the front quarter of the store to help pay the rent. His previous tenant had a tough time making rent. As rents keep increasing, small business owners have had to be creative to survive. I asked Jim what keeps him in Greenwich Village.

“Raising my two children here was the most rewarding part, especially while we lived near the book shop and had frequent events here too. Getting recognition and appreciated in the press and even depicted in movies, watching people’s faces light up at the sight of our name or the range of books in front of them is always gratifying… One of my favorite moments was a young couple just walking by and he sneered, “unoppressive about what?” and she squealed delightfully, “Unoppressive about Everything!”

To help him stay in the Village, Drougas says: “The City needs to protect commercial tenants before it is too late to keep all of us from getting swallowed up by corporate bulldozer mentality.  Passing viable legislation and standing up to the Real Estate industry. We need braver and steadfast politicians who truly care, not wimps. Not phony fake measures that do nothing but study and postpone true action. Rise up, we have nothing to lose but our corporate chain shops.”

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