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COAST, CENTRAL, AND NORTHWEST CITIES : SEAL BEACH

Love of Books Is His Legacy

Death of Cohen, Who'll Be Honored Saturday, Likely Spells Final Chapter for Bookstore

June 13, 2000|ALEX MURASHKO | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The steady stream of people stopping by a makeshift memorial outside the closed Bookstore on Main Street on Monday spoke volumes about its owner, who died of a heart attack last week.

Nathan Cohen loved books, acquaintances said, as evidenced by the store's 35,000 secondhand volumes, which he referred to as "friends." The community outpouring of affection for the man who customers said had time for everyone who walked through his door showed that he cared for people as much as for books. A dozen poems in his memory were taped to the front door, and photos and bouquets sat on the sidewalk nearby.

For the first time in a week, artist Terry Mullin, who had known Cohen since the bookstore opened in Seal Beach 18 years ago, gathered enough courage to stop and remember his friend.

"He was like a relative to most people here," said Mullin, who shared with Cohen a love of the arts and visited him at least once a week. He would also pass by the store nearly every day during errands on Main Street. "He always had that couple of minutes for everyone."

The independent bookseller, who died the day after his 78th birthday, was undaunted by the news a mega-chain bookstore was proposed to open nearby. His store carried mostly secondhand paperbacks priced under $2.

In an October interview with The Times, he said, "I'm not in competition with Barnes & Noble. Most of my books are out of print."

In the same interview he said, "The books are almost sensuous. The thrill of having them in my possession--it's a little bit sick, but I'm a collector."

Main Street kite shop owner Monty Weston said Cohen loved children and pets. He was known to give children a book on their birthdays. He was active with the Seal Beach Animal Care Center. A public memorial service on Saturday will include readings from children and an honor guard of trained dogs, she said.

Weston, who was at the hospital when Cohen was declared dead June 5, has organized a candlelight prayer and memorial planning meeting for 7:30 tonight at the bookstore. The memorial on Saturday is certain to draw a big turnout from the community, she said.

"He seemed to touch everybody's heart," Weston said. "It's my pleasure to make sure [the memorial] is done the way he would have liked to have seen it done."

Weston said she is quite sure that the store, known for its kindhearted owner and piles of books scattered in a seemingly disorganized fashion, will close for good. Family members are not interested in keeping it open, she said.

Mullin said that might be for the best.

"I can't fathom anyone running the store. He knew where everything was, and it was all up here," said Mullin, pointing to his head. "There is no way you can put back the personality. He was the store."

Alex Murashko can be reached at (714) 966-5974.

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