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Bronx's last independent bookstore to close

After nearly four decades, a literary giant is entering its final chapter.

Paperbacks Plus, a Bronx community bookstore on Riverdale Ave., is set to close its doors at the end of this month.

"It's been 38 years, time to let someone else take over," said owner Fern Jaffe, with a good-natured laugh.

Jaffe and a friend opened the shop in 1970, seeing it grow into a neighborhood fixture that is touted as the Bronx's only independent bookstore.

Over the years, Paperbacks Plus has hosted numerous book parties, drawing such big-name authors as Nobel Prize-winner Toni Morrison, Ed Koch, Pete Hamill, Frank and Malachy McCourt, Dr. Ruth Westheimer, Roger Kahn, Carol Higgins and Mary Higgins Clark.

And it became a vehicle for Jaffe's activist streak.

"We were a real community bookstore. If there were issues in the community, we took a stand on them," she said. "We put ourselves out there politically."

When "The Pentagon Papers" were published, Jaffe sent 100% of the book's sales to the Friends of Daniel Ellsberg, a group formed to support the U.S. State Department officer who leaked the secret government reports on the Vietnam War.

When Iran's Ayatollah Khomeini issued a fatwah against author Salman Rushdie and anyone who sold his book "The Satanic Verses," Jaffe kept the book on her shelves.

Recently, Jaffe fought against a Patriot Act provision that would have required her to hand over lists of customers' purchases at the government's request.

"I used to say I should have been a lawyer because of all my activism," she said. "But I channeled that energy into putting the right books into people's hands instead. Books can change people's lives."

It wasn't all heavy political statements though. There were more light-hearted times, too.

For instance, every Yankee baseball player-cum-author has held a book signing at Paperbacks Plus, including Yogi Berra, Paul O'Neill and Derek Jeter.

"Every Yankee player who's ever come through here has been super nice to everyone, especially the kids," Jaffe recalled. "They made you proud."

A true Bronxite, Jaffe grew up in Mount Eden, went to Public School 70 and graduated from Taft High School. She moved to Riverdale in 1966 with her husband, Martin Jaffe, and their two children.

She has always been a reader, so it has been most fulfilling to run a bookstore for nearly four decades.

"To be connected to books and people and publishers in the City of New York has given me the opportunity to live a rich life," she said. "Aside from marriage and children, this bookstore has been the most passionate thing in my life."

As she walked the aisles of the bookstore, Jaffe couldn't help but point out some of her favorite authors, such as Joseph Heller, Morrison, Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Chang-rae Lee, whom she has befriended.

Although she is retiring, the 75-year-old Jaffe plans to stay active in community and political affairs. Her husband died 12 years ago, but she has her children and three grandkids whom she plans to dote on.

Since Jaffe announced the closing, customers have been stopping by to lament and reminisce.

Marilyn Kasdan has been a customer from the very beginning.

"This store has been a neighborhood fixture," she said. "It's been wonderful to have this store in our neighborhood. It will be our loss