Thursday, March 29, 2012

Antiquarium Bookstore: rumours of its demise greatly exaggerated; lost Orson Welles radio ad touting the shop; a discount for AKSARBENT readers!

Update: Antiquarium founder has passed away. Details here.
AKSARBENT drove a friend back to Missouri yesterday and on the way, stopped to book browse at an old favorite, the Antiquarium bookstore, now in Brownville (an arts community 90 minutes south of Omaha off I-29), where owner Tom Rudloff is discretely having the last laugh on Borders.
     For longer than three decades, The Antiquarium was Omaha's biggest, most popular used bookstore and well enough known to book lovers everywhere to have served as the bait of an Orson Welles-narrated radio ad in Young and Rubicam's "Wings of Man" radio/tv campaign for Eastern Airlines. (Scroll down to play the ad and see video of the old Antiquarium location.)
     Though we scarcely thought it possible, we liked the current venue even more than the former one; the new space (in a converted school's gym) soars, but still offers alcove after alcove, cleverly supporting the catwalks and built by Al Strong (the carpenter in the portrait), who was the King, Queen and Royal Family of construction material recycling, a connoisseur extraordinaire of iridescently loud Aloha shirts and the first person to point out to us how much of a bargain Maker's Mark was when first introduced.
The Antiquarium's new Brownville location, a block south of Main on Fourth Street.
The Omaha Antiquarium wasn't only known for books. It also had a record shop, run by wickedly funny Dave Sink, a local legend in his own right. (He repeatedly insisted that what the Antiquarium really needed was a neon sign on the roof alternately flashing "QUAINT" and "BOOKSTORE.") Sink was regarded as the godfather of Omaha's indie rock scene; his shop was the hangout for musically-inclined kids in Omaha in the 90s, including Simon Joyner and Connor Oberst, who said this after Sink's recent death:
I don’t remember the first time I went to the Antiquarium or met Dave Sink.  It all just kind of happened. I suppose I would have been twelve or so, just tagging along with my brothers and the older kids from the neighborhood.  Whenever that was I know I could not have known then that that place would become the epicenter of discovery for my musical life (and life in general) and probably the single most sacred place of my adolescence.

(The Antiquarium record shop did not move to Brownville. It is now a separate enterprise here.)

AKSARBENT didn't leave empty-handed. We snagged a copy of Phillip Norman's SHOUT!: The Beatles in their generation, the definitive biography of the supergroup. At, the paperback is fetching $11.55, but we paid $4.50 plus tax — for a hardcover.
   Not everything is that cheap, but you can get a discount, dear readers, just for mentioning this blog when paying! (Call the store at 402-917-1300 to verify hours, if you're driving a considerable distance.)

BELOW: a 1970s radio ad for Eastern Airlines which touted The Antiquarium as a good reason to visit Omaha. Your tour guide is the original Voice-of-God narrator, Citizen Kane director Orson Welles (whose name is misspelled in the video accompaniment.)


  1. Ah, memories. Count me among those who wish they could afford to buy the Antiquarium building.

    I was lucky enough to know Dave Sink before he was the godfather of indie rock, when he was a reporter at the Sun Newspapers and a part-time instructor at UNO. When the Sun papers were closing, Dave took on what was a bunch of disorganized vinyl albums, ruthlessly winnowed out the worn-out, the hokey, and the just plain unsellable and made a small room the best used record shop in town. Learned on the job, really, since he didn't consider himself any kind of music expert. It's his fault I found the Antiquarium, really.

    I hope Tom is doing well and the bookstore continues to thrive. The world would be a poorer place without it.

  2. Tom Rudlof...what a mensch! He really encouraged and supported me as an intellectual as well as a vocalist and performer when I was trying to find my path back in the day. The Antiquarium was a hang out for social/political pundits, chess and trivial pursuit marathons, band rehearsals and art show openings. It was a place where you find other like minded folks have a coffee and hang out in the stacks.

    I am happy to read that it continues in whatever form and that Tom is doing well.

  3. Worth mentioning that Brownville has a couple of other bookstores, restaurant, winery, and stores. Great historic town to spend the weekend.

  4. I don't believe it is Orson Welles doing the voiceover on this ad. This is Alexander Scourby. He did all the Eastern Airlines TV commercials for many years starting in the 1970's. Scourby was a movie and stage actor who also narrated more than 400 of the Talking Books recordings...including several versions of the Bible. He was described by a columnist in the Chicago Tribune as having" the best voice ever recorded."

  5. From Newsweek:
    In his memoir Making Movies With Orson Welles, Gary Graver recalls that Welles referred to his commercials as “working in the suburbs of cinema.” But Welles didn’t mind the work. His deep, booming voice lent itself to ads and narration. Welles hated working in giant recording studios, though. He had his own recording equipment, and hired Graver to be his engineer. Welles was in Spain when Eastern Airlines hired him for its “Wings of Man” campaign. He elected to film the shoot in the middle of farmland, thinking the setting would be quiet and that “no one will ever know.” But Eastern knew. The airline telegrammed Welles three days later: “We like the voice work very much. But we can hear cows and pigs and chickens in the background. Orson, could you please do this again?”


    Orson Welles replaced Alexander Scourby as the voice of Eastern in one of his first commercial voiceover jobs. Apparently feeling that the new campaign demanded a level of music mere jingle-writers and film composers could not deliver, Y&R instead turned to classical music as arranged by Robert Russell Bennett.60 “By then we’d had it with the Big Melody Thing,” explained a Y&R executive later.61 Eastern executives proudly told the press that the music had been recorded by the London Symphony Orchestra — in fact most of it was recorded by session musicians,62 but the connection to the LSO gave the campaign added grandeur.