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This afternoon, Vicki and I stumbled upon the 1998 film, “You’ve Got Mail,” which I’d remembered capturing the discovery of email as an intimate yet secretive new form of communication. But what the film really brought back is how much I miss the big box bookstores, which were then ascendant, as well as the more personal small stores they were replacing.

I recalled growing up with the likes of Kroch and Brentanos in Chicago, a high-quality small store where the best in books and bookish advice could be had, then the advent of Rizzoli’s in Water Tower Place, where they carried beautiful collectible photo and art books, and where I would spend hours soaking them up. When they closed, I recall stopping by Rizzoli’s original store whenever I got to NYC, to again wade among the wonderful books there.

And then there is Barnes and Noble, where I’ve enjoyed the coffee and croissants and magazines and book browsing ever since. When we run off to Naples in Florida in the winter, once we run out of beach and shops to visit, which is pretty fast, we always wind up at Barnes and Noble, wandering among the comfortable rows of books and magazines, and sipping coffee and rolls in the cafe.

Now, in 2016, it seems all the bookstores are increasingly disappearing — both the wonderful big stores and the charming small ones they replaced. I hear that millennials don’t care much for books — one has to find a place to keep them and everything is available online. I guess we are of another time. I have two small libraries of books, one at our Chicago apartment and another at our Wisconsin lodge, and another four rooms between the two places with bookshelves aplenty. As I wrote in a recent essay for the Chicago Literary Club, my books are like walls of old friends. Like old friends, they offer familiar retreats into good times and wisdom, plus new revelations, given a closer look.

Books I’ve read many times, and those as yet unread, all get my respect. Occasionally we sort out the wheat from the chaff among our collections, but, just like the now familiar internet and the ever-present Google-gate to knowledge, books continue to offer insight and intelligence unmatched except by the best of friends. And I miss those increasingly scarce bookstores, like those operated by Meg Ryan and Tom hanks in the movie, like so many homes away from home.

In 1993, the innovative former Chicago theatre executive credited with being the first to put butter on movie popcorn, passed away. David Wallerstein, who by then was the longest-serving board member at McDonald’s, had become a good friend. It was his idea to offer large fries at McDonald’s — I remember buying bag after tiny bag of 15-cent fries at McDonald’s as a kid. Dave never missed a McDonald’s marketing or communications meeting, and was always sharing his wise perspective and counsel on what might click with customers.  The insights he brought to enliven the movie theatre business carried forward to enhance the world’s largest restaurant company. Here’s his obit from The New York
Times.

David Wallerstein; Theater Innovator In Midwest Was 87

By LEE A. DANIELS Published: January 06, 1993

David B. Wallerstein, an innovator in the movie theater business, died Monday at his home in Chicago. He was 87.

Mr. Wallerstein died of cancer, said Chuck Ebeling, a spokesman for the McDonald’s Corporation, which Mr. Wallerstein had served as a board member since 1968.

Mr. Wallerstein retired in 1965 from the presidency of the Balaban & Katz Corporation, a Chicago-based entertainment company that during his tenure was the largest movie theater chain in the Midwest. He joined the company in 1926 when he was 21, after graduating from the Harvard Business School, and quickly became one of the leading showmen in the country.

His innovations included adding live shows to the movie screenings. Such stars as Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby, Mary Martin and Judy Garland sang before audiences in the company’s showpiece, the Chicago Theater, from the 1930’s to the 1950’s.

Other innovations were putting butter on popcorn, ice in drinks and caramel on apples at theater concession stands.

In 1946, he was involved in the purchase of Chicago’s first television station, WBKB, whose successor station is WBBM, the CBS-owned affiliate. He was also one of those responsible for putting the “Kukla, Fran and Ollie” children’s show on television in the 1950’s. A native of Richmond, he graduated from the University of Virginia in 1924. In his 80’s, he was still an active hiker, downhill skier and traveler. Last year he journeyed to the Antarctic and had planned to travel to the North Pole until health problems interfered.

Mr. Wallerstein’s wife, Caroline, died in 1982. A son, Michael R. Wallerstein, died in 1974.

He is survived by two sons, David L. Wallerstein of Washington and John M. Rau of Orange County, Calif., and one grandson.

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