SD: How is the bookstore pronounced?
Ruben: It’s (Books @) The idea of the title of the store B_KS@ for me is a frame of mind. It's the idea that it's something that you could tuck under your arm and take anywhere, figuratively and literally. We've done popups, for example, B_KS@ at MOCAD, B_KS@ at Siren Hotel, B_KS@ at Linda Dresner, and B_KS@ House of Vans. So it becomes a literal name that can be applied to anything. If you look around, you'll see that it's much more than that. It's a very specific store because of the size of it. There isn't a lot of room for smaller publications, so it's a very focused, curated, (although I'm starting to hate that word because everything is ‘curated’,) but it's all done with a particular purpose in mind. It's basically what's inside my head. I created B_KS@ as a way to satisfy my own needs. Because when I came to Detroit almost three years ago, I did not have this as a purpose. This was not the ultimate reason why I moved here. I moved here for a lot of other personal reasons that had nothing to do with business. But when I got here, I was appalled by the lack of printed material because I had spent 35 years in Manhattan. Your eyes hone to a certain level of visual sophistication, which I just frankly didn't see here. If I did see one or two great publications, I would see 20 shitty ones. So what I’ve basically done with B_KS@, is I've asked you to trust me. Trust me with my choices. That's been the... the continual driving force behind B_KS@, is ‘trust me with my choices, I’m trying to bring the material that I pretty much know for a fact would never even come here.’ So that was the driving force behind creating B_KS@ two years ago was– the idea that there was no material here that I felt spoke to me, which I was hoping would speak to other people.
The goal of B_KS@ is to bring in magazines and books that the Detroit market would probably not be able to have access to outside of going to a bookstore in New York or Paris. It's kind of a place for people to come and look at things. The goal is information, it's communication, it's about communicating. It's what these magazines and books are communicating to you on a personal level. That's what B_KS@ ultimate goal is.
SD: Are you originally from Detroit?
Ruben: I am, I was born and raised here and left Detroit as an 18 year old, and moved to New York. I was actually recruited out of Wayne State to work for a New York investment house. I had no business being there. I was recruited by a friend whose uncle was a major player at a brokerage house in New York. He brought me into New York on a visit, showed me the offices, and told me why he wanted me to join the firm– because I was a hungry kid from Southwest Detroit, lower middle income family. I had been going to New York since I was 15. It was fairly seamless for me to transition between Detroit and New York, it was a big city with more people.
I ended up moving there in the late fall of ‘79. It was an experience that I could only imagine– it was filled with miraculous people.
Most people live in Brooklyn or Queens or even Jersey City because rents are incredibly expensive in New York. But in 1979, you could actually live in five or six neighborhoods that were affordable like Chelsea. Chelsea in 1979, which was between Seventh Avenue and Twelfth Avenue, was incredibly wild. I mean, you only went there to find sex, both straight and gay. That was really the purpose going over there. My first apartment was on the Upper West Side, which today is dotted with multimillion-dollar apartments. At the time that I lived there, it was a terribly bad neighborhood and people were telling me that I couldn't live up there because it was too dangerous, but I did.
SD: Is there a pressure to select “good books or magazines?” Or is it much more of you just expressing your taste organically?
Ruben: I do organically make decisions, but the pressure comes through the point that most of the magazines are biannual, which means they're only produced twice a year. That is why when you look at a magazine like Purple, there's real value in the content and it has to be that way, I don't give a damn what the cover has to say. The pressure comes in the fact that sometimes I feel like I'm cannibalizing my own sell because even the books, a lot of them are in addition to 500 or a thousand. Now that's worldwide... That's not just the US, that's worldwide. So I purposely make a choice to limit the amount of copies I bring in. I'll bring in maybe 10 or 12 at the most of any particular title because my eye is constantly taking in new material. Constantly I am becoming bored so I need to go onto the next one, and the next one. So the pressure is finding something new, different and exciting research.
SD: How would you describe yourself in three different attributes?
Ruben: It's an image that I saw. It was an image of Karl Lagerfeld right after he passed away. He was at a desk and to the left of him was about six feet of the desk and to the right of him was another six feet of the desk and in front of him was another six feet of the desk. There wasn't a single spot on that desk that was not covered by a book, a magazine, a poster, broadside paper, or CDs. So what that told me was that even at the age of over 80, he was constantly curious. I described myself as a curious person, and that appeals to me. I want to be curious to the very last breath that I take.
Ruben: Tenacity. Growing up in Southwest Detroit, in what was a middle-income Mexican family, it taught me the value of work– taught me the value of respecting work, and it taught me the value of being self-sustaining.
Ruben: What would describe me is that whatever choices I've made in my life and continue to make, I view them as a lifestyle issue for me. And it's something that I learned through my work with Italians in the Design District, which is the second career I had after the Wall Street, was the idea that if you were in a beautiful car, you wanted to wear a beautiful suit. If you were in a beautiful suit, you want it to have a beautiful home.
SD: How did you begin to get these amazing publications to your store in Detroit?
Ruben: I've always been a collector of printed matter for years and years, so a lot of these relationships are personal relationships. Honestly, most of the magazines are just relationships that I've created. It's not because somebody else tried and couldn't get them, it’s because they chose not to– and I'm choosing to, it's very simple for me.
SD: Half the uniqueness of the space is that everything's fresh and new. I haven't seen a lot of it before, which is really cool. I always know when I come in I will see something inspiring.
Ruben: The way I do research, which is, you know, I'm sure the way a lot of people do research, is that if I see a very cool magazine and I'm looking through it, I'm looking for a particular touchstone. Is there a particular designer that's in the magazine more than others? So I'll Google that particular designer and find out what other publications they are in. Why do I do that? Because that gives me a sense of like-minded people thinking along the same process. There's a lot of amount of research that goes into it. I do it every day, every night, and everything is in my head.
Ruben: I calculate what I want, how many I want, when I want it, and then I move onto the next day. And there'll be periods where there are more books than magazines, simply because there's more. It might be an in-between time for magazines being released. Because I don't carry monthly’s, I can't fill the gaps with monthly magazines. I just circulate it.
SD: You have a goal in mind, but there has to be a sense of curiosity, you know, ‘cause you don't know it's there.
Ruben: That's valid, you know, the curiosity helps you to find those... those gems that you never knew about because you were curious enough to ask the question.
SD: Obviously you get people in here all the time. Is there ever a moment where it's frustrating to give your all and go into detail about the magazines and books?
Ruben: It’s not about somebody coming in and not purchasing, ‘cause that's going to happen. Like I said, we're trying to think of this as a long term commitment on what it means to be doing what we're doing. To me, there's nothing more self-centered than holding back information that you have that could actually enrich someone else's life. So for me to communicate this to somebody is the easiest thing in the world. I absolutely love to do it.
SD: How many books do you have personally?
Ruben: They are not here but in a warehouse. Somewhere around 3,000. Most of the books, in the beginning, were photography books that, segue to focus on architecture, design, and fashion.
SD: What is your favorite publication?
Ruben: I've had several over the course of my life. Design vintage copies of Domus and Casabella, because they appeal to a particular movement from the sixties and seventies called radical Italian design. Fashion– I've always loved the Purple. I don't have very many of the early copies of it, I do have, say, the last 10 years worth of Purple. I love re-edition and Replica Man. That's the brother and sister publication. Those are the ones that I always look forward to, and I've never really been disappointed. If it's content, or cover or both, they don't seem to disappoint.
SD: What's the process? Are you reaching out to the publication prior?
Ruben: Sometimes it takes a little bit of work because people don't know you. I always reference the Instagram account and now the website. You'd be surprised how many stores are excited about selling to us, ‘cause they've never had anyone approach them from Detroit.
Ruben: I have a lot of books by a publisher and in the UK called IDEA LTD. They're very high fashion and always produce very good books! They distribute Gucci books all the time. I'm the only store in between Dover Street Market, New York, and Dover Street Market, Los Angeles.
Interview: Zachariah Hagy
Copy editor: Aly Weatherford