Micanopy loses an icon in bookseller O.J. Brisky
Published: Saturday, February 1, 2014 at 5:55 p.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, February 1, 2014 at 5:55 p.m.
MICANOPY — The men at the Thursday afternoon nickel-poker game called him “Juice.” To employees at his favorite cafe, he was an order of crispy oatmeal cookies, and chicken and dumplings — hold the dumplings, of course. In the book world, he was known as one of the best. And to the merchants in Micanopy, he was a good friend for decades.
“He was one of a kind and definitely his own man,” said K.C. Remington, a friend for 20 years. “I've never met anyone like him — sad to say.”
Micanopy book dealer O.J. Brisky passed away last month at age 71. A native of Hungary and a U.S. Army veteran, Brisky owned O. Brisky Books on Northeast Cholokka Boulevard.
“O.J. is the first active merchant we have lost,” said Monica Fowler, owner of Delectable Collectables for more than 33 years. “It's had a great impact on us. He's very missed. His passing has left a little hole in our hearts. ”
Brisky, who often said “Books have been good to me,” opened his first bookstore when he was a student at Louisiana State University in New Orleans. He later owned a store in Tarpon Springs before moving the store to Micanopy.
When he first opened the store in Micanopy about 25 years ago, he would commute from New Port Richey, where he lived at the time. At one point, he owned two stores in Micanopy, and he opened the current location about 15 years ago. He also purchased two buildings on Northeast Cholokka Boulevard, including the one containing his bookstore and Fowler's shop.
The store “really was his whole life,” said Gary Nippes, who has been the manager at O. Brisky Books for 15 years and Brisky's friend for nearly 25 years. “He loved the books, and he loved buying books. Even when he was not feeling well, he went into the shop, even if only for a few hours.”
The nonfiction shop is packed with 55,000 volumes and specializes in Florida history, military history, natural history, and art and architecture.
“He loved nonfiction,” said Nippes, who was also worked with Brisky in a publishing company. “Both of us, our area of interest is nonfiction. But he didn't collect anything for himself. He knew the idea was to sell them.”
Nippes now operates the bookstore from 10:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, but he said he will be closing the store permanently within the next four to six months. He said there will be a series of sales starting at the end of February to try to liquidate the inventory.
“It's just the book business has changed,” Nippes said. “Over the last 15 years, the customer base has changed. People are reading less, and there are fewer collectors. The economy over the past five years was a factor as well.”
Customers from across the country and from Europe would come to Micanopy to see Brisky and sift through the bookstore's vast inventory. Nippes said closing O. Brisky Books is certainly going to impact the community.
“Micanopy was good for the bookshop, but the bookshop (also) was good for Micanopy,” Nippes said.
Fowler said the bookstore has been “an incredible draw,” and Brisky was well-known in the book community.
“After his passing, the next morning, I got nine phone calls from people in places as far as Illinois checking on how he was doing,” Fowler said. “I got a call from North Carolina — just from all over. It was really heartwarming.”
Fowler, who was friends with Brisky for nearly three decades, said Brisky was extremely intelligent.
“There are more than 50,000 books in the store, and O.J. probably read half of them,” Fowler said. “Every time I would walk into the bookstore, he would always be reading, and he was extremely versatile. I would go over there and say, 'O.J., I just read this, do you know … ?' and he would just fill in all the blanks for me.”
Fowler described Brisky's store as “an old-timey bookstore” where customers become engrossed in looking at the assortment of books.
“You would walk in and you were just struck by the quantity of books and the variety of books,” Fowler said. “It smelled like books. It had that wonderful feeling of books. It was such a relaxed place. Customers could stay as long as they wanted.”
Although Brisky loved to chat about the topics in his books, he kept his personal stories to himself.
“One thing about O.J. was he was intensely private, and we all respected that,” Fowler said. “We understood that his illness was his business, and we tried to be very helpful, but we never intruded.”
Brisky was a regular at Coffee n' Cream, the cafe across from his bookstore. When he fell ill, the cafe made sure he never missed a meal.
“Toward the end of his life, they were just amazing,” Fowler said. “They would give us soup to bring to him and just his favorite foods.”
Jasmine Falcone, an employee at Coffee n' Cream, said Brisky's favorites were oatmeal cookies and chicken and dumplings, although he prefered his cookies overdone and his chicken and dumplings without the dumplings.
“Every time someone would come in, they would say, 'Save a cookie for O.J.,' ” Falcone said. “Every Thursday we would bring him chicken and dumplings, mostly just chicken and broth, no dumplings. Toward the end he wasn't eating very much. Chicken and dumplings was one of the few things he would eat.”
Remington, author and illustrator of the Webbster and Button children's stories, said O.J. would go to the cafe every morning for his coffee and search for his discount card in a box on the counter.
“I'm sure he had his first nickel framed over his fireplace,” Remington joked, adding that O.J. had a rich sense of humor. “He was a curmudgeon 'til the end, but I think he enjoyed the role because there was always a twinkle in his eye waiting for the next joke.”
Remington described Brisky's knowledge of books as “encyclopedic.”
“I think he knew every title in his store,” he said. “The garage in O.J.'s house was so filled with books, he parked his car outside.”
Brisky also enjoyed the cartoons in The New Yorker, and he often sat on the bench outside his bookstore reading works by the Greek playwright Sophocles, Remington said.
“We used to invite O.J. for Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners,” he said. “He'd always arrive with a paper bag with three Beck's and a grapefruit. The Beck's were for him, and the grapefruit for us.”
At Brisky's request, no funeral service was held. He is survived by his only son, Michael Brisky, and his two sisters, Christina Brown and Susanna Breeden.
“In spring, we'll have a celebration of his life when his sisters can come back to town,” Fowler said.
Remington said there are plans to put a small plaque on the bench outside of the bookstore in Brisky's honor.
“O.J. was the first person I met when I moved here twenty years ago. That was a lucky day,” Remington said. “I can't tell you how much I'm going to miss him.”