Dwight Williamson: The story of a bookstore parallels the story of downtown Logan | Opinion
It’s no secret that I enjoy writing about almost all aspects of history, but especially local history. Call me quirky, weird, weird, or whatever you want, and I’ll just take the verbiage as a compliment to the other names some people have chosen for me.
One thing I’ve noticed in my history research is that the facts surrounding the past aren’t always conducive to what some people want to hear. There is always the fear that the truth will be revealed. Also, I find it amazing how many people manage to close their eyes or just put their head in the sand, even when they know an action is inappropriate or illegal. It is as if the rule of law no longer applies. We will see.
For now, I’d like to engage readers with a somewhat sad story of a simple man and some history regarding the building he used in downtown Logan.
The person I’m talking about is Michael Esposito, and the building I’m referring to is a relic of the town of Logan that most Loganites can’t fully identify with. However, there are fond memories for some of us who once graced the old restaurant on Stratton Street, known as Coney Island.
When I was very young, I remember my mother taking me with her to the town of Logan, which was very important, not only for me but also for my mother, who did not visit Logan very often. And like most people who were lucky enough to live and visited Logan from the late 1950s to the 1970s, a memory always involves that of the old GC Murphy store that everyone called the “Dime Store”. .
The smell of freshly roasted nuts, the endless amounts of candy available and, of course, the goldfish tanks that were visible and on sale at the back of the store, are certainly pleasant memories.
My mom and I would drive into town and back to our home in Verdunville via a Trailways bus, which was common throughout the county at the time. The bus station was then located on the current site of the Wendy’s restaurant in Logan. Buses arrived and left regularly from there to all parts of the county. To me it seemed like a monstrosity of a building.
But what I also remember is watching the open houses of many restaurants that existed in Logan at the time. Almost all had their doors open in the summer, and all had screen doors to keep flies and other insects out.
It seemed like every dining establishment had a counter or bar with chrome bar stools for customers who chose not to sit at a table. What comes to mind is the sight of men and women sitting in bars, usually with a long-necked bottle of beer in front of them. My understanding is that it was a common sight at the time, and I don’t know when that changed.
The Coney Island restaurant was one of the places I remember curiously looking at, never daring to venture inside. Some places had jukeboxes, and the music from them filtered through the streets. The sounds and smells always left me wondering what was beyond those screen doors.
Fast forward nearly 20 years later to 1980 and I’m sitting in the bar of the Coney Island restaurant interviewing its owner, Mike Chryssofos, enjoying every minute of the discussion. His broken English had a distinct Greek tone as I jotted down the words of a Logan Banner story.
I have often wondered what happened to the recipes for the delicious and unusual dishes that were served at Mike’s restaurant. By the time I reached adulthood, beer was no longer sold in Coney Island, but food, whether it was an unconventional hot dog, a chili burger or what was called a vegetable plate, was delicious. The bean soup and especially the coleslaw, which did not include mayonnaise, were fantastic. I wish these foods could somehow be revived locally.
Anyway, the building has changed hands seven times since the Ammar Brothers Real Estate owned it in 1948. Today it is sadly unoccupied but certainly not empty.
Mike Esposito’s untimely death left a void for Logan — perhaps a small void, but a void nonetheless. After all, Mike’s business which he titled ‘Stratton Street Bookstore’ is not likely to reopen. In the meantime, there remain hundreds of books, magazines and other documents in the building, which is owned by the Mike Ferrell family.
As I continued to help promote local businesses, I interviewed Mike for a story when he first opened his quaint bookstore. In fact, I thought the place added a significant touch to the rustic town, although, like Mike, I knew it wasn’t a potential financial goldmine. For him, it was more of a hobby. And it was clear that Mike Esposito was looking for peace of mind, not financial gain.
Like Mike Chryssoffos before him, Esposito is the result of his family’s migration to Logan. He was the youngest of six children and, like three of his siblings, he became a lawyer. However, Mike preferred libraries to courtrooms and gave up practicing law.
Like so many other Italian families in the early decades of the 20th century, Mike’s family lived in a section of Mt. Gay made up of many Italian families. His grandfather opened a store there which was built in 1937 and has been demolished in the last 10 years. The two-story brick structure had remained standing after several decades of annual flooding.
“I remember being in the building and never being able to get out when it flooded,” Mike told me in his interview.
After his family moved to the town of Logan, Mike said he made good use of the Logan Woman’s Club library, which has now been dubbed the Don Chafin House. “I would get a book from the library on a Friday and read it on Saturday so I could have another one for the weekend,” Esposito recalls. “I always knew books were important.”
Mike died on April 2 at the age of 63 and was predeceased on December 21, 2021 by his brother Tom, former mayor of Logan. Their father, Vito, was a lifelong educator and former principal of Logan Junior High School.
Shortly after Mike opened his bookstore, I was researching the local college library and noticed one of the books in the hallway marked as “free”. The library regularly donates books, usually because they are unused or out of date.
The thick, hardback book featured a photograph of a guy whose face I had seen on a TV show. In fact, it was a TV show that I grew to dislike a lot. Nonetheless, I thought it might be something nice to add to Mike’s newly opened library.
So, in this early spring of 2016, I brought the book that featured the face of a business tycoon that I knew absolutely nothing about Mike to display in his store. Months later, after the man featured in the book was elected President of the United States, Mike sold the book to a friend for $20. A check on eBay now shows you can buy the book for between $12.95 and $18.95. Looks like Mike got a good deal.
You see, the book is called “The Art of The Deal” and was written by former President Donald Trump before he became President.
I found a Donald Trump quote from the book that I think fits Mike Esposito very well. It reads, “The most important thing in life is to love what you do, because that’s the only way to be really good at it.”
A small town, a small bookstore and a good man.
Another chapter in Logan’s story is now closed.
Dwight Williamson is a magistrate in Logan County. He writes a weekly column for HD Media.