Quirky Schroeder Books stacks up
According to a handwritten sign in the window, Schroeder Used Books and Music, 7629 W. Greenfield Ave., is open from 9 a.m. until midnight. However, the co-owner, Alma, says the shop is always open.
Even if the doors are locked and the lights are out, customers are encouraged to call Alma – her phone number is also on the sign – and she'll come over, day or night, and open up the place. Sometimes she's sleeping inside and can let customers in right away, other times she might be a few minutes or hours away and will inform them when she could meet.
When we stopped in last week, Alma was propped up in her usual corner a few feet from the doorway, sitting on a stack of magazines, wearing a lopsided wig, unwashed dress and a leather fanny pack. She was surrounded by garbage and half-eaten food items and stacks and stacks of movies. She flashed a huge smile as soon as she saw us.
William Schroeder owns the bookshop, but Alma (who would not disclose her last name) is his life and business partner. She says she first met Schroeder 56 years ago when he came into Artists and Display, 9015 W. Burleigh St., where she worked for 24 years.
Schroeder owned two bookshops Downtown, both called Schroeder Books and Records, and would sometimes stop into the art store to buy materials for sign making.
"We only said 'hello' and 'goodbye' for many years," says Alma.
When Schroeder offered her a job at his bookshops, she didn't want to take it, but her sister encouraged her to do so.
Alma says the 6th Street bookstore was destroyed by a fire and later the 7th Street bookshop was forced to move to make way for what are now the Library Hill Apartments.
"It is terrible to move a bookstore. Terrible. There were 500,000 boxes," says Alma.
Schroeder's is both chaotic and yet somewhat organized. There are labeled sections as well as massive piles and teetering stacks of books, records, cassette tapes, DVDs, VHS tapes, 8 tracks, reel-to-reels, old magazines (including an impressive selection of vintage porn), comic books, TV guides, appliance manuals, encyclopedias, stuffed animals and much, much more.
It's a bit overwhelming – especially when you realize that there are rows of books and records behind the seemingly endless rows of books and records. It's also a bit surprising that Schroeder's doesn't smell worse, considering the amount of uneaten and exposed food left in nooks and crannies.
"William has things in here from day one," says Alma. "Just when you think you should put something in storage, someone will buy it."
Even though she spends most of her time in a bookstore, Alma says she is neither a writer nor a reader.
"I never was a reader. We lived on a farm with one kerosene lamp and we didn't have the money to pay for the kerosene. We lived by candlelight. So when we got home from school, everything was dark," she says. "I don't think I could read a book. My parents never read. I read those little books in kindergarden, but reading a book, or a story or a novel? I couldn't do that."
And yet, Alma has an appreciation for books.
"Throwing away books is crazy. Old books should be kept, not thrown away. Those writers took a lot of time and energy to write these books. Especially back then. Now they just slop it together to make money, but then it would take years and years to write a book," she says.
Alma, now 83, was born in Milwaukee and lived on a farm in Michigan for 10 years with her family before moving back to Milwaukee. Today, she says she and Schroeder live "everywhere."
"We're like the movie stars. People don't know if we're coming or going," she says.
In the '30s, Alma and her family raised rabbits, pigeons and Guinea pigs. She says they sold the pigs to hospitals for experiments and ate the rabbits. She says her father built roads along Milwaukee's lakefront and was often given groceries for payment.
"All they gave us was salt pork and my father liked meat so he grew the rabbits. When we sold the Guinea pigs we'd get $7 or $8 and that was a lot of meat in those days: pork chops, sausages," she says. Page 1 of 2 (view all on one page)
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