MICHAEL COYLE (1939-2019)
As Christmas draws near, we wistfully share with you the loss of our dear friend and colleague Michael Coyle, who passed this year after a long illness. Michael came to Chartwell Booksellers in September 1988, following half a lifetime working at Gordon’s bookshop in the St. Regis hotel. Michael was the invaluable secret asset gifted to us when we purchased Gordon’s automotive book inventory just as that store was retiring from active duty at the end of a 65-year run. Michael had worked at Gordon’s since high school, starting when he was 16.
Born on September 23, 1939, Michael grew up in Manhattan, in Yorkville. He attended Cardinal Hayes High School in the Bronx, where he was an outstanding athlete; Michael continued to play pickup football and basketball in the city parks for many years thereafter. In 1963, around the time that his family moved to the Bronx for good, Michael joined the Army for two years of service. On his return, Michael followed his family to the Bronx, where he lived for the rest of his life. He also resumed his employment at Gordon’s, in June 1966.
Gordon’s was a fascinating place. A man named Raphael Gordon opened it in 1923 as a magazine and newspaper shop at 32 East 59th Street; the block of the now-departed Savoy Plaza Hotel (the G.M. Building stands there today). Though quite tiny, Gordon’s boasted a customer base straight out of The Social Register, largely due to Mr. Gordon’s unique ability to stock magazines from all over the world that no-one else could get, even during World War II.
As a high school kid, Michael became the store’s delivery boy. When the Savoy Plaza and its neighbors were all torn down in 1965, Gordon’s — now run by Mr. Gordon’s son, William, and his business partner, Alice Stein — moved to the St. Regis in a little space fronting 55th Street. Michael joined them there.
Eventually, it was just Michael and Ms. Stein at Gordon’s. When Ms. Stein retired in 1988, declining to move on from the St. Regis when it shuttered for extensive renovations, Michael came over to us at Chartwell.
He really never left. Michael quickly became our store’s heart and soul, handling every conceivable unsung detail of Chartwell’s operation, while also faithfully serving the customers, a number of whom had followed him down the street from Gordon’s. His straightforward goodness, leavened with true street-smarts, made Michael a singular and deeply beloved Chartwell fixture.
He finally retired in 2017, after a diagnosis of early onset Parkinson’s disease. His sisters Lillian and Terry were particularly devoted to him in his final years of illness, along with is brother Daniel.
We missed Michael from the moment he left the building. Now we also mourn him. He was one of a kind.