Black Cat: That crime noir bookshop also for swinging 70s music lovers
by rick olivares
A bookstore, a quaint and real one and not those faux ones that sell school supplies, is a product of love, utter geekiness, and well, dreams fueled by prose, coffee, and music.
Among the hidden gems of Manila’s answer to New York’s East Village, is an unobtrusive bookstore up in the second floor where most people don’t even know there is a store.
“I ought to fix that one of these days,” promises the shop’s owner, Bob Araneta.
The “Black Cat” is the name of his bookstore right above the Grey Market and UVLA in Cubao X. The shop opened in April of 2016 and is the product of 30 years of dreaming. “I’m an avid reader,” Bob says belaboring the obvious. “After I retired from a long career in advertising, I though the time is right to make that dream come true. On and off for 30 years, I thought about putting up my own bookshop. And now, it’s here.”
And “here” is the “Black Cat”, so named for Cubao X’s collective pet black cat Lala that is actually owned by the proprietors of Habanero Kitchen and Café that is a stone’ throw away from Araneta’s shop.
“I was stumped what to name the bookstore,” shares the bespectacled and pensive Araneta. “All the original books I sold were from my personal and vast collection of crime books so I was thinking of a name for the shop along that line. But I couldn’t come up with anything. I noticed at the time we were putting up the shop that this black cat hung out in the premises. So it hit me, ‘Black Cat!’ And that’s the story behind it.”
“I intended Black Cat to primarily be a bookstore that specialized in crime books. The simple reason being that crime is my favorite genre. And there are a lot of quality books in this genre that doesn’t get a lot of attention. I have many books that do not appear in the mainstream book stores and if they do, it isn’t much. I had in stock more than half the bibliography of Ruth Rendell and PD James among many others. However, in the past few months, I’ve added books about medicine, motoring, entertainment, and music not to mention selling vinyl records also from my personal collection.”
He has on sale biographies about Brazilian musician Cayetano Veloso, the Rolling stones’ ageless guitarist Keith Richards, Fleetwood Mac, and film director Martin Scorsese among many others.
While most of the books are from his collection that he started out as a teenager, some have been sourced from collectors of the same tastes. “As much as possible, I do not carry the books you will find in the regular bookstores but I guarantee you that you will not find a bad book on my shelves. Besides, I cannot compete with them so I dabble in the rare, hard-to-find, and personal.”
So personal that it has been a little difficult for Bob to sell his books and records. Last Christmas, Bob sold one of his favorite books, “Into the Red: 22 Classic Cars that Shaped a Century of Motor Sport” that was written by Pink Floyd drummer, Nick Mason. The book came with a bonus CD that recorded the sounds of these classic race cars.
Outside his career in music, Mason regularly took part in motor races. He drove classic cars and parlayed his love for them in that book that was published in 1998 to great acclaim.
“As a fan of motor sports, I loved Nick’s book and it is a little difficult to come by nowadays. The fellow who bought it was quite insistent. Selling it… was hard. At least, I can take consolation that it is in the hands of someone who will love it just as much as I did.”
So why sell a personal collection?
“For so long, I was straddling the line of collecting and hoarding. I have leaner collection now. But don’t think selling them is easy. You can say that they are all a piece of me. I have this mania for protecting my books so if you notice, they are covered in plastic. The browning of the pages I cannot help because of the humidity in our country.”
“I still have some 80 boxes to unbox. Hopefully, I’ll get to that soon.”
Here are five pieces on sale at Black Cat that Bob Araneta says define not only him as a person but his shop.
Araneta has several on sale. “They are emblematic of my love for music. Aside from vinyl, I still listen to cassettes and make mixed tapes the old fashioned way -- from vinyl records to cassettes! If the boom box breaks down, there are spare parts available. The problem is finding people who know how to fix them.”
A mounted Austin Powers movie poster.
I bought that in Times Square New York in 1997. I love pop art. And there are a few others in the shop that are also for sale.
Bound books and magazines.
The bound volumes on top reflects a period of my life when I would collect magazines and have them bound. I have bound collections of Spy magazine, Stereophile magazine, and comic books like the old Stan Lee Daredevil.
The Getz-Gilberto vinyl record.
Originally released in 1964, this record by American saxophonist Stan Getz and Brazilian guitarist Joao Gilberto introduced the latter’s music to America. It is the first non-American album to win a Grammy Award. “This is a pretty special album. It stands the test of time. It isn’t that rare as it is still available. I kept most of my good stuff. What is for sale covers a pretty much wide genre from rock to pop to Brazilian music to jazz and classical. They haven’t sold that well. The classical does well though.
The “Oscar the Grouch” type trash can.
This actually isn’t for sale. It’s a decorative trash can. It looks old but it’s new. I found them in this Japanese surplus store in Cavite. It isn’t for sale unless someone makes me an offer.
The Black Cat is open on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays, most Saturdays, and Sundays from time to time from 3pm onwards.