“This ain’t no library, kid. If ya ain’t buying nothin’, get the hell outta here, I ain’t runnin’ no charity operation.” – Abe Sherman
Following is a remembrance of Baltimore’s most idiosyncratic bookstore and its legendary cantankerous owner, Abe Sherman (1898-1987), excerpted from “Hip Shops In 1965-68 Baltimore, Beatniks, Mods, and The Psychedelic Propeller,” by David Robert Crews (Magic City Morning Star, March 13, 2008).
Starting in 1919, Sherman operated a newsstand at Baltimore’s Battle Monument at Calvert and Fayette streets until 1970, when he opened Sherman’s Books uptown at the corner of Park and Mulberry street. Besides making his mark as a gruff news vendor (at one point The Leather Underground store on Read Street sold Abe Sherman “Holiday schmoliday! Where’s my present already?” Christmas cards!) and civic figure who rubbed elbows with Babe Ruth, F. Scott Fitzgerald, H.L. Mencken and William Manchester, Sherman was also a celebrated military hero; he served with Maryland’s 29th Army Division in both world wars, receiving a Silver Star for bravery at Normandy in WWII. In 1991, Gov. William Donald Schaefer joined with military officials to dedicate a Maryland National Guard dormitory near Reisterstown, Maryland, Abe Sherman Hall, in his memory.
Sherman’s Book Store
By David Robert Crews
At the corner of Park Avenue and Mulberry Street, about a ten minute, easy, stroll from Ted’s, was Sherman’s Book Store. That was a true Baltimorean’s place to shop.
Abe Sherman owned and ran that bookstore, and, when I first went into his store, Mr. Sherman was well over 60 years old. In fact, he was the oldest man in Baltimore to be accepted into the U.S. Army during World War Two. I think Abe was in his early 40s in 1942. He may be Abe to me now, but I wouldn’t have dared address him as anything but Mr. Sherman back then.
Abe was the first in Baltimore to sell posters of Rock n’ Roll bands. I bought Rock n’ Roll record albums once or twice a month, during every month that I was in high school. I knew when all of the latest stuff came out in local record stores and in the record departments of large department stores. That includes General Music on Baltimore St., Modern Music in Eastpoint Mall, and a very nice and slightly ‘ahead of the pack’ record store in one of the wealthiest sections of Baltimore, on Cold Spring Lane. Sherman’s had the very first Rock n’ Roll posters sold in Baltimore. I bought my first poster there. It was a black and white photo of the Rolling Stones, which sold for a-buck-fifty. And that was the first time I was ever in Sherman’s. For years after that, I shopped there just about anytime I was in that part of town.
As I was paying for that first poster, I looked over Abe’s shoulder, and there behind him were the very first buttons I had ever seen that had Hippie style sayings on them: “Make Love Not War”; “Draft Beer Not Students”; and the famous peace sign. I was standing there in Sherman’s with two friends. We gleefully read the sayings on all those buttons, then I purchased several buttons along with that huge photo of the Rolling Stones. It all, absolutely, blew our young minds. We were awe-struck and mighty thrilled by that experience. Baltimore was becoming a brave new world to us.
I searched on the web for Abe Sherman, and I found this, from a guy who had moved to Baltimore and begun working for Abe Sherman in 1979. Tom Chalkley wrote:
“I’ve known the area since the summer of 1979, when I moved to Baltimore from Washington, D.C. My indispensable pal, Craig Hankin, had wangled me a job at Sherman’s Newsstand at the corner of Park and Mulberry. It was a total immersion in Baltimoreana: My boss was the late, legendary Abe Sherman, who had started out as a corner newsboy prior to the first World War. By the time I got to him, Abe was a tiny, white-haired specimen of living history, regarded by many as the crankiest man in town. His pet name for me was ‘Schmuck,’ as in, ‘Schmuck, run down and get me a bundle of girlie books!’
The strangest thing about Sherman’s was its collection of faded black-light posters and other leftovers from the psychedelic era. It seems the neighborhood was full of head shops once, but Abe had no use for hippies until his son pointed out that the freaks were pumping millions of dollars into the economy. So Abe–a crusty, cynical septuagenarian–began to stock incense, New Age literature, and huge images of Jimi Hendrix and the Who.” [“Head Trip,” City Paper, 12/27/2000]
But that’s just his guess on how it began. The text says, “It seems the neighborhood was full of head shops once, but Abe had no use for hippies until his son…” But Abe actually started it all in his neighborhood. Before any other head shops or any Hippies were around there. He was into it before the Psychedelic Propeller Head Shop opened. I was in the Propeller the first week it opened. That fresh, new kind of a shop was big news to my friends and I. Also, when Abe started selling posters, the Jimi Hendrix Experience did not even exist yet. I was there and heavily into it when it all began in and around Baltimore. And “you can take that to the bank”, as they say.
But it was really neat for me to read Tom’s article and finally find out how Abe got the idea to sell that stuff. Because ever since that first purchase in Sherman’s Book Store, I have often wondered about that and have commented to other people about it. That part of the Tom’s story would be true. It’s just that Ted’s son had to have been talking about what was happening, mostly, out on the West Coast and in New York City, but Ted’s son had to known that trends like that spread across America. I’m going to try and contact Tom. He seems like a nice person, he just didn’t actually live the history he was surmising about.
Abe Sherman was a tough and scary man, until he got to know ya’. But he always watched every move every customer made, in his store. He would stand right behind you, while you looked at magazines or books, with his arms folded over his chest and a thoroughly unfriendly look on his face. He admonished any customer who did not put a book or magazine back exactly where they had picked it up from. And you had to perfectly and evenly straighten up any pile of magazines or books that you took one from.
But when he got to know that you were serious about buying any of his avant-garde, or other, types of publications, posters, or Hippie pins, he was one neat old dude. He found out what you liked and showed you where there was more of the same kind, or something similar. Sometimes, he would guide me over across the store to show me a section of publications I had never read anything like before. I believe he honestly thought I might like them. I rarely purchased any of his suggested books or magazines, but he never became gruff or cross about it. And he turned me onto one or two items that I was very excited to learn about.
Still though, like I said, Abe was a tough and scary old guy; a Jewish man who had joined the U.S. Army at about age 40, to go try to kill that screamin’ German demon, Adol’f Gitler (SHikl’gruber).
Here’s something from D. Borsella on Baltimore Timeline:
“Abe Sherman was a known Baltimore character who ran the bookstore at the SW corner of Mulberry and Park Avenue. You went to Sherman’s if you fancied being insulted. After 3 seconds: “Are you buying or reading! If you wanna read, go over to the library.”“
Susan Fradkin of City Paper Online wrote:
“Abe Sherman terrified generations of book buyers at his newsstand (he yelled at me once for standing too close to the magazines).”
Long time Baltimore newspaper columnist Michael Olesker wrote:
“You know you’re a Baltimorean if you ever lasted 15 minutes without Abe Sherman throwing you out of his bookstore.”
One time, my two friends and I, who had gone into Sherman’s together for the first time, were in the store looking at new posters, when Mr. Sherman said, “You like that poster? You guys wanna see some better ones? C’mere.”
So Mr. Sherman leads us over to an open basement doorway, and he walks down the basement steps. We had walked, about eight feet behind him, over towards the basement doorway, but had stopped and were patiently waiting a little ways back from the open doorway; we were expecting Mr. Sherman to bring the posters up to us. Now, we had never worked in any stores; we had never been down in any retail storage areas like a basement–where customers are traditionaly forbiden to enter. Had it been any other store, we may have reacted the same way and would have stood there not daring to enter the basement. We were always fairly reserved, when shopping in Sherman’s, and completely respectful to Mr. Sherman, so we did not dare at all to enter his basement storage area. But Mr. Sherman takes a few steps back up towards us, smiles warmly, motions with his hand for us to walk towards him, and says,” C’mon down here.”
We replied, more or less stammering in unison, “Wawawhat? UhUs? You mumumean we can go down there? You’ll let us go down there!”
We then proudly crossed a boundary line that we never thought anyone but Mr. Sherman could cross and live to tell about. It really made us feel good about ourselves. Mr. Sherman had recognized us as being true citizens of the brave, new, young world we liked living in.
Abe Sherman sold the latest, hippest, premium Rock n’ Roll magazines and other solid quality items that go with a Rock n’ Roll album music collector’s lifestyle. And a goodly number of my friends and I purchased as much of it as we could possibly afford.
Awesome Men Throughout History: Abe Sherman (tsbmag.com)
“Abe’s $11,000 newstand” (Gilbert Sandler, Baltimore Sun, Nov. 9, 1993)
“‘City That Reads’ slows its pace at new bookstores” (Michael Olesker, Baltimore Sun, Feb. 27, 1997)
Abe Sherman (section 10-J) in Tom Chalkley’s “Cartoon Map of Baltimore”
View/buy pics of Abe Sherman at tribunephotos.com.