Once upon a time in Zanesville, Ohio, Ezra Goldstein faced a life-altering choice: stay put and help run the family electrical shop, or chase the dream of being a writer.
Fast-forward three decades to Brooklyn, N.Y., circa 2010, when Goldstein faced a fork in the road that in many ways mirrored the first. This time, he gave up writing to run a famous bookstore. The decision prompted his aunts in the Buckeye State to crow that he’d come full circle.
Now 64, Goldstein is much more than a merchant. As co-owner of Community Bookstore in literati-rich Park Slope, he’s become an oracle for readers and most of all a magnet for the hundreds of writers who live within a stickball swing of the Seventh Avenue store.
Even if it never occurred to him that one day he’d peddle books rather than write them, owning the oldest independent bookstore in Brooklyn suits him. When the Forward caught up with Goldstein, he was frantically organizing days of simultaneous events for the Brooklyn Book Festival, which took place on September 22. Taking a break in the store’s bucolic backyard, wearing a faded jean jacket as his hair blew in the gentle wind, he reflected on his circuitous path.
Instead of going into the electrical supply business, Goldstein did in fact become a prolific writer, penning the play “Swimming with Sturgeon,” a young adult novel about a Holocaust survivor, two ghost-written memoirs for Holocaust survivors and numerous newspaper and magazine articles. He’s wistful about his former writing life — he has hardly written a word since buying the store — but he’s invigorated by an “all-consuming” job that’s changed his life “180 degrees.”
Goldstein goes to Zanesville every year for Rosh Hashanah to make a minyan with a dwindling Jewish community. After those trips, Goldstein, a father of three, tells his wife Annette that the cost of living is so low there that they could move back and live like kings. To which she responds that if he moves back to Ohio, he can live like a king. Goldstein concedes that he’s not about to give up the charmed lifestyle in Brooklyn. He and Annette enjoy the tight-knit neighborhood, the Park Slope Food Coop and the Park Slope Jewish Center.
“Busy, busy, busy,” as Kurt Vonnegut wrote.