Saratoga Springs

Longtime owner of Lyrical Ballad Bookstore in Saratoga Springs dies

John DeMarco recalled as key part of downtown Saratoga Springs
John DeMarco, proprietor of the Lyrical Ballad Bookstore in Saratoga Springs, arranges books at his store in 2006.
John DeMarco, proprietor of the Lyrical Ballad Bookstore in Saratoga Springs, arranges books at his store in 2006.

SARATOGA SPRINGS — A longtime Saratoga Springs businessman and favorite of book lovers near and far has died.

John DeMarco had run Lyrical Ballad Bookstore since 1971 with his wife, Janice.

The shop was a favorite spot for fans of old, used and rare books, with just a limited selection of new books of local interest. Its website boasts of more than 100,000 books, antique prints and maps in stock.

DeMarco was known for the range and selection on the shelves at his Phila Street bookstore but also for being a survivor during the decline and then rebirth of the city. He was known as well for a friendly personality.

“Losing John DeMarco is losing a part of our whole town’s history,” said Chloe Kettlewell, a longtime friend of the DeMarco family and next door neighbor to Lyrical Ballad.

“As his business neighbor, we are now fielding all kinds of questions” from people who’ve learned about DeMarco’s passing.

Kettlewell has worked at the framing shop now known as Kettlewell & Edwards since the year 2000. 

“We enjoyed many years of Jan and John’s friendship and their fine shop,” she said. “I’ve known John DeMarco since I was a teenager. He was a family friend, actually purchased my grandfather’s house and lived in this big old pile of a Victorian house for years.”

Kettlewell said DeMarco published a 1991 book by her father, former Skidmore professor James Kettlewell, and stocked it at Lyrical Ballad because it chronicled 200 years of Saratoga Springs architectural history.

Longtime Saratoga Realtor Tom Roohan knew DeMarco for decades.

“They’re the longest tenant my family has ever had,” he said. “He has just always been a pleasure to do business with, even when things happened to him like broken sewer pipes. He never said a bad word about anyone.”

Roohan said he and DeMarco talked regularly over the decades, either bumping into him and Janice on Broadway or chatting when DeMarco came into to pay the rent. He regretted not seeing him one last time in recent weeks.

Northshire Bookstore owner Chris Morrow met DeMarco as Vermont-based Northshire was considering adding a second location in Saratoga in 2012. DeMarco served as a consultant to Northshire, which led to it opening a successful location on Broadway.

“He was incredibly gracious and helpful,” Morrow said. “He was a true book person. It was his life and he was very good at it.

“Most importantly, he was a great human being.”

DeMarco carved a niche for Lyrical Ballad that allowed it to survive the competition of large corporate retailers like Borders and the advent of digital media but still welcome the arrival of another independent bookseller, Northshire. The two had different markets, and would refer customers to each other.

Mayor Meg Kelly said Wednesday that Lyrical Ballad weathered the ups and downs of the city’s downtown landscape and made it a better place.

“It’s a sad day for Saratoga Springs,” she said. “Lyrical Ballad outlived most of the big box stores and really was the foundation for much of the revitalization of Saratoga Springs. His store survived it all due to the strength of his personality.”

DeMarco, a Mechanicville native, told The Daily Gazette in 2006 that he started the store with very little money soon after graduating from SUNY-Albany, where he studied English. 

The store grew in square footage and inventory mainly through hard work. It attained national fame in some circles in the 1980s when DeMarco, a Herman Melville fan, brokered the sale of a trove of rare Melville writings unearthed in Gansevoort.

“It was a once in a lifetime event,” DeMarco recalled.

Categories: Business, News, Saratoga County

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