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‘At Least the Carpet is Clean’ Leak damages rare bookshop

(Press Staff Photo by Geoffrey Plant)  Dennis O’Keefe vacuums water out of his rare-book shop Sunday, after an early Saturday morning leak in a bathroom inside the historic Palace Hotel dumped hundreds of gallons of water into the space, ruining about one-fifth of O’Keefe’s stock. “At least it wasn’t sewer water,” he said. O’Keefe has been a tenant in the Palace Hotel block at Broadway and Bullard Street for 35 years.

(Press Staff Photo by Geoffrey Plant)
Dennis O’Keefe vacuums water out of his rare-book shop Sunday, after an early Saturday morning leak in a bathroom inside the historic Palace Hotel dumped hundreds of gallons of water into the space, ruining about one-fifth of O’Keefe’s stock. “At least it wasn’t sewer water,” he said. O’Keefe has been a tenant in the Palace Hotel block at Broadway and Bullard Street for 35 years.

Having operated O’Keefe’s Book Shop for 35 years in a retail space beneath the guest rooms of Silver City’s oldest operating hotel, Dennis O’Keefe has gone through more than a few leaky episodes resulting from the old plumbing above him, causing damage to some of his books and making minor messes. 

“But never something like this,” he said last weekend, as he cleared out shelves and boxes of books in order to mop up what he estimated to be hundreds of gallons of water that leaked through his bookshop’s ceiling early Saturday morning. “I guess I’ve sucked up 80 or 90 gallons of water so far with this,” he said, pushing a Rug Doctor carpet cleaner — which not only cleans carpets but also removes water from them. 

“At least the carpet’s finally getting cleaned,” he said with a wry smile. 

O’Keefe was in surprisingly good spirits, considering that his store, which traditionally relies on foot traffic and hotel business when a pandemic and global economic crisis isn’t in play, has also been closed for more than a month. 

“I’ve got an aversion to doing business online, but we’ll see what happens,” he said. “We’re more of a browsing bookstore. It will be weeks until I can get up and running, dry the place out. I’m glad it wasn’t a sewer leak. I’ve lost hundreds and hundreds of books, probably one-fifth of my inventory.”

O’Keefe traffics in rare and unusual books, signed editions and the like, as well as stocking a large section of Southwest and hyper-local tomes. The first title that made him go, “Oh —” was a severely water-damaged, signed hardcover edition of a work — he couldn’t remember the exact title when the Daily Press stopped by — by Agnes Morley Cleaveland, the “No Life for a Lady” author born on a ranch near Magdalena in the territory of New Mexico in 1874. 

“There were some rare ones — that one was a classic,” O’Keefe said. “This has happened before, to a smaller degree, and I’ll dump the damaged ones in a free box, or give the rare ones away to friends; they’re unsalable if they’re totally wrecked.”

The desk clerk from the Palace Hotel — built in 1882 — came by to check on O’Keefe. The owners of the hotel have always been O’Keefe’s landlords, and recently the Aragon brothers — general manager Steve and owner Paul — took over the landmark hotel and the spaces beneath it, which stretch around the corner of Broadway and about a quarter-block up Bullard Street, to the where the Buffalo Bar used to be. 

“Do you need anything?” asked the woman, who told the Daily Press, “I’m Rose from the Palace — no last name necessary.”

O’Keefe requested the use of some of the hotel’s towels, and after Rose left said, “They’re great. The manager is being helpful, he’s a good guy. I’ve seen multiple owners through the years.”

On Monday, Steve Aragon told the Daily Press what happened. Like most plumbing catastrophes, it’s not a dramatic story — at least at first.

“We had a supply line to the toilet, and a little plastic threaded part broke, and it leaked. We had just one room rented that night, and the guests notified us of a leak in that room,” he said. 

“As soon as it happened, I checked downstairs, and there was no leak through the ceiling,” Aragon continued. “I took care of the room, and around 6 the next morning, I looked in the store and didn’t see any damage — but then later Dennis came to the door, and I thought, “Maybe he’s paying rent.” 

Aragon and O’Keefe share a sense of humor. 

“But no. He said, ‘There’s some damage.’ All the water went into the store and damaged some of his books.

“I called some people to do the cleanup in his store, but they didn’t show up,” Aragon said. “So, we rented a Rug Doctor and sucked up as much water as we could. We shared the cleanup. We want to be as nice as possible. We will work with Dennis and work out the financial compensation, one way or another.”

The Palace Hotel isn’t exactly doing brisk business these days either, with guests in just five of its rooms nearly maxing out the state-mandated 20 percent limit on occupancy. 

“We have been averaging one to three [rooms] a night,” Aragon said. “Although last night, we had five rooms, which is 20 percent — so we were full.” 

Who are these visitors to Silver City?

“Three rooms last night were forestry folks, and we had one nurse and one couple that was looking at buying a new home, I think,” Aragon confided. 

Aragon credited Charmeine Wait, Silver City MainStreet’s executive director, with giving the Palace Hotel management the help they needed to apply successfully for some of the $2 trillion in federal stimulus funds that became available at the end of March, which has meant that none of the hotel’s staff has been laid off. 

“We’ve got $10,000, and about $1,800, too,” he said. “That’s all, so far. But it has helped a lot. We haven’t had to furlough or lay anybody off.” 

On Monday, though, Aragon was mostly concerned about his tenant, O’Keefe. 

“He’s a good man to work with, and just a real good guy,” Aragon said. “We took him a steak and some hot dogs last night, a little dinner — he was working so hard. I am sorry for the damage. I want people to know we are here, we are here for the tenants and here for the community. 

“Stay strong, Silver!” he added.

—GEOFFREY PLANT

 

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