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A bookish retreat in Harlem's Sugar Hill

Kurt Thometz, owner of Jumel Terrace Book shop,

Kurt Thometz, owner of Jumel Terrace Book shop, Harlem?s oldest and only bookstore devoted to African-American literature and history. Photo Credit: (Tiffany L. Clark) Kurt Thometz, owner of Jumel Terrace Book shop

If you stay at the Jumel Terrace B&B, you won’t have to look far for some nightstand reading. The elegant and erudite accommodations share the English basement of  a brownstone with a specialty bookstore, the main point of business in Harlem’s historic Sugar Hill neighborhood.

Proprietor Kurt Thometz, an antiquarian bookseller, added the garden apartment lodgings to supplement the unpredictable business of a bookstore specializing in local history. But it’s the books upon which he’s built his reputation as an arbiter of literary tastes.

Over his 36-year career—Thometz, 57, started selling books out of high school—he’s curated libraries for the likes of Calvin Klein, Diana Vreeland, Diane Sawyer and Mike Nichols, and Brooke Astor. A Minnesota native who fell in love with New York as a teenager, Thometz and his wife, Camilla, bought the 1891 house in 2004, and set up shop with his personal collection of reference books.

“There was a crying need in the neighborhood for a place that showcases its 20th-century history,” he said. “It’s an overwhelming history of people in the arts.”

Open “by appointment, invitation or serendipity,” his shop specializes in micro-local history and literature. It’s particular but not precious. There’s a keen focus on Harlem and the Morris Jumel Mansion (right across the street) but also  a wide range of topics relating to the African-American experience including sports, performing arts, jazz, military and civil rights.

Thometz, who drives a 1974 black Checker Cab (and who obviously does not own a Kindle), still sources books for private collectors. His most challenging mission was finding a wedding gift for a bodyguard to give his betrothed billionaire employer. For him, Thometz procured an early 16th-century German prayer book encasing a painted miniature. Price: $15,000.

Sugar Hill resident Eric K. Washington, an author and historian, says he can’t think of another store like it in the city.

“He has a unique compendium for Harlem audiences. I think that as an emporium, he provides a service for people who are hungry for literature having to do with the immediate geography,” he said.

And then there’s the bookseller himself. Says Washington, “He’s fascinating and informed and funny—not just another bookseller—he’s very hands-on.”

Jumel Terrace Books
426 W. 160th St., (212) 928-9525
http://www.jumelterracebooks.com
; http://jtbandb.wordpress.com.


By the numbers:

Number of volumes: 3,000-3,200
Most expensive book in the store: First edition, sighed copy of Bruce Davidson’s “East 100th Street”: $3,000
Cost of a one-night stay: $250

 

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