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.