Michael Houghton, a used and rare bookseller, died Saturday at his home in Nyack. He was 74 and suffered from pulmonary and heart disease. His store, The Ben Franklin Bookshop, was a favorite destination for book lovers throughout the Metropolitan area for over 30 years. His knowledge and love of books as well as his easy going, humorous and entertaining personal style made his shop a pleasure to visit.
Born in 1943 and raised in Circleville Ohio, he tagged along in the company of his bookselling father. He graduated from Antioch College and spent his early life living briefly in NYC, Boston, Chicago and San Francisco before settling down in Seattle, Washington where he established himself as a film editor and independent film maker. He met his wife, Karen Mundell Houghton and they each established their own respective businesses in what was then a backwater and forgotten city. They lived in Seattle for over 10 years before returning to her family in Nyack, NY, where after a brief period working as a film editor in NYC, he managed and then bought The Ben Franklin Bookshop. It was originally located in Upper Nyack, in the building Edward Hopper painted in “7 A.M.”, and later moved to North Broadway in downtown Nyack. To quote from his unpublished memoir: “I lived through what was perhaps the golden time of second hand bookshops. Shops crammed with books from before the Great Depression, very low prices on everything, a browser’s dream. My shop was part of that heyday, even as the whole thing was approaching its end. If you count my early memories, I cover a large part of the Twentieth Century used book selling history, with another ten years’ experience trading in the present century.”
When he wasn’t buying, selling or reading books, Michael enjoyed listening to jazz, especially live jazz, and especially while drinking Bushmills Irish Whisky. His self-published essay “The Office: A Nyack Nightclub 1975-1987” is considered a local classic, one might even say, a “rare book”. His friendships with regional jazz musicians combined with his extensive knowledge of jazz history, made the column he wrote for many years in The Nyack Villager a popular monthly event. His regular attendance at local jazz clubs was always met with enthusiasm, especially by the players and the bartender.
After his retirement from the used book business, he returned to an early interest in sketching and keeping visual diaries of his everyday life. Drawings, cartooning, collaging and recording whatever tickled him or struck his interest. He also spent 3-4 months every year for the past eight years traveling the country with his wife in their Airstream trailer. They logged an average of 10,000 miles a year visiting every major region in the country including many of the National and State Parks. They never made a reservation anywhere.
A cancer survivor, he was treated successfully for throat and lung cancer at Mt. Sinai. He is survived by his wife Karen and his daughter Emily Houghton of Philadelphia; a brother, Tim Houghton; and a sister, Tina Gibson of Ohio.
In keeping with his wishes, no flowers or donations please. A private remembrance will be held at a later date.
Emily and Karen will forever miss his love, his companionship, his cooking, his humor, his storytelling and the fine example he set for living a good life and enjoying it too.