“Likely you’ve discovered Von Blon’s bookstore already.” Essay
In a letter to Harold Preece, written in August of 1928, shortly after Preece had taken up residence in Waco, Howard mentions one of his sources for books:
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The photo above was taken by Gary Romeo for his excellent essay “In Search of Cimmeria.” Romeo travelled Texas in Howard’s footsteps some years back and had this to say about Von Blon’s:
Waco was also the home of a popular area bookstore, Von Blon’s. REH is known to have purchased several books there. The store was located at 416 Franklin Street. Today a music store fills the building. There was a devastating tornado that hit Waco in 1953. Several of the downtown area businesses were destroyed. Franklin Street was relatively unscathed; and of course, the Alico Building survived, although it swayed as much as 6 feet during the tornado.
Back in Howard’s day, the Von Blon Bookstore was an important place in the college town of Waco. Both public school and Baylor College students, along with facility members, depended on von Blon’s as a source for school books and research materials. The bookstore sold new, used and rare books, along with school supplies such as Crayons, paper, pencils, etc. Additionally, von Blon, was quite skilled at tracking down rare books requested by his customers. In those days, Texas did not provide any textbooks to schools, so all students had to provide their own. Of course, more traditional books and periodicals of interest to the general public could be found at Von Blon’s as well.
The original Von Blon’s operated from 1916 to 1938. His first bookstore was in the basement of the old Provident Building, which was previously known as the Peerless Building. Then he moved to 413 Franklin and operated there for a period of time. Next von Blon moved his business across the street to 416 Franklin, and later moved the bookstore a couple of doors down to 408 Franklin. Von Blon always wanted to open his store on Austin Avenue (the main drag in Waco in those days), but it was just too costly for him to do so.
Avery Festus von Blon, Sr. was born in Upper Sandusky, Ohio on November 8, 1888. Around 1914, von Blon moved from Ohio to San Antonio. He was working as a switchman for a railroad when he met his wife to be, Lena Janek. The two married in 1916 and after a short honeymoon, the pair moved to Waco where von Blon began his career as a bookseller.
Prior to marrying von Blon, Lena lived with and worked for the Moos family, who owned and operated the H. A. Moos bookstore on Commerce Street in San Antonio. The Moos, gave the von Blons some books to get them started and they brought the merchandise with them to Waco.
In the early days of the bookstore, von Blon needed extra income and worked as a switchman for the Katy Railroad and later for the San Antonio and Aransas Pass Railroad. Von Blon and his wife ran the bookstore themselves, occasionally hiring someone to help out during busy seasons.
The couple soon started a family, with Lena giving birth to three sons. Their first son, Avery Festus von Blon, Jr. was born on September 15, 1918, followed by Henry Moss, born on April 25, 1920 and John Herman, born on June 26, 1923. Sadly, Henry, the middle son was born with an autoimmune disease and died on February 15, 1924.
Von Blon’s bookstore was not the only bookstore in Waco. During the early to mid-thirties the city had a larger population than Austin. His competitors included Norman H. Smith who operated a store located on Austin Avenue that stocked mainly stationary and office supplies, but also carried textbooks, Ida Rand ran a bookshop on South Fourth Street, the Hill Printing and Stationery Company operated a rental library and there were other bookstores in town as well.
As was the case with everyone else in the country, The Great Depression took its toll on the von Blon family business. In 1938 he filed for bankruptcy and closed the bookstore, which was then back in the Provident Building, its original 1916 location. Reportedly, von Blon took the loss of his bookstore pretty hard.
Von Blon and his wife returned to the book business in the early 1940s, moving to San Antonio and operating a used bookshop at several locations, first on La Salle Street and later moving to St. Mary’s Street.
On September 30, 1953 von Blon succumbed to aplastic anemia. He was 64 years old. His wife Lena moved back to Waco around 1957 and lived there until 1996 when she passed away at age 103. The von Blons are buried side by side in Waco’s Rosemound Cemetery.