Q and A with Jeffrey Frase
Every Friday, the Portland Tribune puts questions to a prominent - or not so prominent - local person.
Jeffrey Frase probably has given the gift of Life to more people than anyone else in Portland.
That's Life, as in Life magazine. Frase is the owner-operator of Cameron's Books and Magazines, the overstuffed, old-fashioned store at 336 S.W. Third Ave. downtown, where cheap books abound but old magazines are the specialty.
Frase keeps a stock of more than 50,000 magazines dating back to the 19th century, so that people stuck for a gift can find a Life or Time or National Geographic published on the day or week somebody special - or maybe just somebody ancient - was born.
Frase, 55, claims Cameron's is the oldest operating bookstore in Portland. He's certainly got the merchandise to prove it.
Portland Tribune: So what's your best-seller?
Jeffrey Frase: In old magazines, Life is the king.
Tribune: How many do you sell?
Frase: Probably 20 to 25 a month.
Tribune: You must get customers with unusual requests, right?
Frase: A lady came in and requested a Saturday Evening Post from the late '50s that had a story in it about her. She had been an airline attendant on a plane that had crashed in the Pacific Ocean, and she was instrumental in the survival of a group of people on a raft.
She saved a guy's life by tearing strips off her slip and using them as a tourniquet. This was all in the article, and she bought every issue I had.
Tribune: Any others?
Frase: There was a family in Milwaukie whose mother was on the cover of Life in 1951, and they used to come up and buy all the issues.
She was a teenager at the time and very perky, a Portland Rose Festival princess. It was a pictorial about summer vacations.
I've had at least two women come in wanting Playboys because they had been in them. One of the women had her daughter with her. Her issue was in the early '60s.
The second time was about a year and a half ago when someone asked for the October 1985 Playboy. She opened it up and showed me her picture in an advanced state of disrobement.
Two summers ago someone asked me to get a couple magazines out of the window display. We try to catch people's eyes with campy covers.
Anyway, I went out and picked up this magazine and look out the window, to the person who was pointing, and there on the other side of the window was Bob Dylan and his entourage.
Tribune: What did he want?
Frase: He picked up a Time magazine with Merle Haggard on the cover, who was touring with him at the time. I think the other two were Ebonys, and they had something like Diana Ross and the Supremes on the cover.
Tribune: Did Dylan come in the store?
Frase: He's very reticent and protective. I was too chicken to approach him. I just let him hang out.
He ended up buying a book called 'Dictionary of Theories.' I just remember him dressed all in black leather with a stocking cap pulled down over his ears to make himself look incognito.
Tribune: This is a browsing store. Do you get a lot of customers who have no intention of buying?
Frase: The biggest headaches are street people and junkies that float into what they think is an easy mark. The biggest nonthreatening pains would be cheapskates.
Tribune: And your most memorable cheapskate would be?
Frase: This just happened yesterday. A guy brings an old paperback up to the counter and wants to know the price. It had not been marked.
So I gave him our minimum price, $2. And he turned it down because he thought it was going to be the original price of the book, which was 50 cents. He said he couldn't pay $2 for it, and he left.
Tribune: What's your oldest magazine?
Frase: We have some from the late 1880s.
Tribune: Well, nobody's going to come in and ask for those as birthday presents, are they?
Frase: That's why they don't sell very fast.
Tribune: How much does an 1880s magazine go for, anyway?
Frase: About $25.
Tribune: Sold one recently?
Tribune: Maybe you should lower the price?
Frase: All I need is one person willing to pay that.
Tribune: Is there anything in here that isn't for sale?
Frase: Those posters on the wall. Some of them date back to World War I. Or the Wayne Morse (former U.S. senator from Oregon) posters - they've been here since the '60s and they belonged to the original owner of the store, Robert Cameron.
Tribune: Why won't you sell them?
Frase: Because they'd be gone, and I wouldn't have them anymore. People ask to buy them all the time.
Tribune: What do you tell them?
Frase: That I'm not desperate enough. If you ever see them gone, you'll know I'm that desperate.
- Peter Korn