Last stand for the printed page

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Bob Katzman

Bob Katzman poses in his Skokie business, The Magazine Museum, which he calls his "paper prison." He has thousands of vintage magazines, and very few customers. (Chris Walker, Chicago Tribune / June 12, 2013)

His four children, who range from 16 to their late 30s, are "not interested in continuing. They see me as imprisoned by magazines. Though, in general, it makes me feel bad more people don't appreciate what has taken me a lifetime to gather and understand. This is an emotional thing. Now I feel an overwhelming loss. Five hundred years of print, and it's all ending right here."

I said I think people incorrectly assume every back issue of every magazine ever published is online. He shook his head and asked me: Even if that were true, didn't I feel a personal connection to the printed page?

We were standing in the Playboy section. He seemed very sad. To lighten things, I told him that a friend of mine from college once posed for Playboy, a while ago. Is that what he meant by a personal connection?

He brightened.

"When?" he asked.

I told him, and immediately he located the right year of the issue, lifted a stack of magazines off the shelf and, within 30 seconds, he found the issue I had mentioned. "Ah," he said and turned and handed over the October 1992 issue of Playboy with two hands, as though it were on an expensive pillow.

I reached out for it.

"Wait," he said. "How does this make you feel?"

Awkward, I said. I never bought an issue of Playboy; now I felt like I had to.

"Forget that," he said. "I mean, react as a customer. How did this feel? My service?"

Personal, I said.

"Exactly!" he said. "I had no warning, I wasn't waiting for this request. Within seconds, it went from a memory you barely remembered to" — he opened the issue, stopping at my friend — "this girl. Wow."

I nodded.

"People say, 'I can buy this stuff for $1,'" Katzman said. "Well, that's a garage sale, this is not. They say, 'This is probably available online.' OK, but coming in here, being here, while this stands, that's not available anywhere else."

cborrelli@tribune.com | Twitter @borrelli

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