Robert Willig, RIP.

Right after my wife and I moved to this neck of the woods, I made the rounds of the local bookstores, and my hands-down favorite was Troubadour Books, then in North Hatfield, just across the river; I wrote about my first visit back in 2007, featuring its generous and knowledgeable owner, Bob Willig. A few years ago I posted that Sam Burton of Grey Matter Books would be running the store (now in Hadley), since “Willig is blind and has been in bad health.” And this morning I was saddened to read his obituary in the local paper:

Bob was an expert on football, baseball, basketball, jazz, blues, barbeque, classic Jewish humor, Medieval philosophy, and the Beats. He was also a harmonica virtuoso, bibliophile, gourmet, bon vivant, raconteur, political radical, anarchist, world traveler, and even once studied to be a clown. […] He attended New York University, the University of Oregon and graduated from George Washington University with a degree in Comparative Religion and a minor in cinematography.

When Bob opened his bookstore, Troubadour Books (for Scholars and Holy Fools) in 1995 in North Hatfield, Massachusetts he built a collection that attracted scholars and buyers from California to England. He was famous for his book sales and always extended generous discounts to any who asked, with maybe a shot of Maker’s Mark bourbon from below the counter, just for good measure. […]

From his voracious reading and book collecting he built up a huge personal library reflecting his many interests from Dante to Ginsberg and from Dario Argento to Alfred Hitchcock. When his groaning shelves could hold no more it was time to open his own bookshop and he used his collection as the basis for his legendary bookshop, Troubadour Books.

Troubadour was more of an open house or salon than a typical store. Bob and Toni were always ready to sit and talk and share stories. Their friends were always dropping by. How they managed to run such a neat and tidy bookshop that was bursting at the seams at the same time was a wonder. They made it look easy, as if they were born to this life. When Bob began to go blind in 2012 Sam Burton purchased and merged Troubadour with his shop, Grey Matter, in Hadley, MA. His shop is still open and thriving and is a worthy successor to Bob’s legacy.

I personally wouldn’t have called it “neat and tidy,” but it was wonderful, and of all the bookstore owners I’ve known he may have been the very best. Alevasholem.

Comments

  1. a degree in Comparative Religion and a minor in cinematography

    His only options were clown or bookstore.

  2. Gregory Lewis says

    I just came upon this, and am saddened to read. I searched for “Robert Willig, book seller” because that’s on a Troubador Books book mark in a book I just now picked off my bookshelf. I was what Robert called a “holy fool”, and raided his small ramshackle bookstore in the early 2000s. I brought my daughter there once, so she would know what kinds of things I liked to do. It was one of my favorite book stores (there were so many antiquarian used book stores in the Happy Valley in those years), but Robert was my favorite book store owner/manager. I was on his mailing list, and occasionally I would get postcards announcing a sale. The postcards themselves were unusual, with random sayings like, “The leopard triangulates (something something something, I can’t remember).” From the outside, Troubador Books looked like a rundown shack. Inside, the walls were literally held up by a pillar of stacked Oxford English Dictionaries. I mostly patronized the section in one corner that was religion and spiritual. I found some really rare books, like a Doctoral Dissertation by Elaine Pagels, or books on magic, Theosophy books by Helena Blavatsky, Mishna in Hebrew, books on Buddhism, witchcraft, Aleister Crowley, many books on Gnosticism (“Gnosis on the Silk Road”), etc., etc. Behind the counter Robert kept beat era collectibles, of which I came home with a few, such as William Burroughs and Jack Kerouac, and Aldous Huxley.

  3. Thanks very much for that comment; I wish I’d thought to get on his mailing list. What an amazing man.

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