Midtown fine art bookstore lives on
By Zack Sherzad
Amatoria Fine Art Books is not a new beginning as much as it is a rebirth. For 35 years, Richard L. Press Fine and Scholarly Books on the Arts subsisted on a quiet corner in Midtown, its shelves curated and ministered by the titular Richard L. Press.
Over the course of his life, Press accumulated a collection of rare books that made discerning bibliophiles drool. He focused on fine art, mostly—painting, literature, photography and architecture, to name a few broad categories. But his collection of 15,000 books was as varied as the arts themselves, and included a plethora of rare, out-of-print texts on fringe subjects like typography, cartography, papermaking, mosaics, textiles and more.
In early 2020, Press, then 89 years old, decided it was time to exit the book business. He sold his life’s work to a bookseller named Lawrence Hammar, who drove from Ohio to Sacramento hoping to pack everything up quickly and head home. Unfortunately, COVID-19 had its own plans.
Overwhelmed, Hammar started looking for help cataloging the books. Enter Laurelin Gilmore and Miranda Culp. The pair’s credentials were excellent. Gilmore has a degree in library science. Culp has been working in bookstores most of her life. When they agreed to help, they expected the job to be finished in a few weeks.
“But it just became obvious to everybody that the neighborhood wanted the store open, the store did not want to close,” Culp says. “We couldn’t just let it go.”
She and Gilmore, previously complete strangers, started having some serious conversations. If they let Richard L. Press Fine and Scholarly Books on the Arts disappear, the artistic community would lose an incredible resource—one that Sacramento had been incubating for 35 years. Preserving Press’ passion project was important to them both. But the books had already been bought. And how crazy would it be to open a fine art bookstore in the middle of a pandemic?
“I knew I would regret it my entire life if I didn’t take the risk,” Culp says.
She and Gilmore approached Hammar with the idea of buying the collection to keep it in Sacramento. Without hesitation, Hammar agreed that Press’ legacy belonged to Sacramento—and presented a deal. He’d sell them the collection and use his experience as a bookseller to help them get the new store on its feet.
“Lawrence Hammar is the patron of Amatoria. He sold us a huge portion of these books for a song,” Culp says. “Without his business acumen and his generosity, we wouldn’t be here.”
The bookstore’s name comes from Ovid’s “Ars Amatoria.” “We wanted a name that conveyed new ownership and Ovid’s poem was the perfect metaphor for what art does: It asks essential questions and evokes powerful emotions,” Culp says.
Almost a year after buying the shop, Culp and Gilmore have no regrets. “The squeeze of the Trump era, the horrifying death of George Floyd, COVID, the wildfire smoke—all of those pressures that I think were making us all unhappy, miserable and hopeless—coming here and sorting these books has been mental health medicine for me,” Culp says.
“It’s been participating in the absolute best that humanity has to offer. Yes, sometimes there’s no question that things are awful, but what makes us human is that we try and understand, we integrate those experiences in creative ways. That’s what Amatoria is.”
Zack Sherzad can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram: @insidesacramento.