Although currently based in the SF Bay Area this press has its gnarly roots in Charlottesville, VA. There on the downtown mall (just a hop, skip & a jump from UVA) stood one of the world’s great avant-garde bookstores, Le Scat Noir. Although it carried unusual art books and literature from around the world, it was best known for a huge poster which appeared in its window from time to time, resulting in the store’s temporary closure by local authorities. According to the proprietor, Norman Conquest, “It was a scat and mouse game that went on for years, much to my amusement.”
The game, however, finally came to an end in 2009 when the literary landmark went bankrupt. With a nostalgic twinkle in his eye, Conquest reports that friends assure him that whenever they walk past the vacant building “they still get a whiff of the old store.””
Fortunately for Charlottesville, a few blocks away remains Read it Again, Sam, run by Dave Taylor, another independent bookseller with exceptionally fine taste.
The original structure, erected on Market Street in Charlottesville, Virginia in 1932, was a quaint combination slaughterhouse and ice cream parlor, with a distinctive archway lit by forty-two hanging lamps. Although business was slow during daylight hours, the building swelled to life after dark, due in large measure to a brothel located in the cellar. The illegal business flourished until 1940, when it was closed down by local authorities. The building stood vacant for twenty-five years until, in 1965, it was subdivided by the flamboyant French developer Bennie Péret-O’Lay, and became a bustling beauty salon known as The House of Wax, and a hippie head-shop.These businesses gave way in the early 1970s to Break Wind Books, specializing in Civil War memorabilia, books on local history, and Southern Fried “Chick-Lit.”Finally, in 1989, the Paris-based publishing conglomerate, LSN International, purchased the property for 6.2 million dollars, and proudly evicted the former tenant. Then, on the first day in April of that year, Le Scat Noir Bookshop & Café threw open its doors to a city starved for literary nightlife. The address also served as home to this journal, with its editorial offices located below street level in the quarters of the former brothel. Here, an underpaid staff of a dozen employees worked at dimly-lit desks, producing the infamous weekly newspaper, Le Scat Noir, while music from the café above shook the walls.The bookstore quickly became known around Charlottesville as the place to go for experimental literature, pataphysics [SIC], and rare books on avant-garde art. Smoking on the premises was not only permitted but encouraged, as patrons were greeted at the door by an attractive young lady in a tank-top dispensing free cigarettes and souvenir ashtrays with the painted slogan “Where Art & Literature Hit the Fan.”