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[whitespace] Missing Dan Jaffe

We say a sad goodbye to the 'Mother Teresa of bookstore owners'

By David Templeton

Behind the squeaky-clean glass of the storefront window at Copperfield's Books in Petaluma is a growing, evolving, curiously organic, overwhelmingly personal memorial. There are flowers, candles, and photos, notes on business cards, notes on liner paper, poems, prayers, and books on jazz. All of these artifacts surround a simple sign reading, "Dan Jaffe, 1951-2002. Peace on Earth."

Dan Jaffe, who was found dead in his home on Tuesday, March 19--apparently the victim of a heart attack--was, with his brother Paul and Barney Brown, the co-owner of the Copperfield's Books chain, a North Bay institution for over 20 years. Lesser known but no less important was his work as a supporter of countless humanitarian causes around the North Bay and in Petaluma, the town he'd called home since joining Paul in the bookstore business 16 years ago. Dan's death was sudden, unexpected, and devastating to those who knew, loved, and respected him, this writer included.

On Tuesday afternoon, not long after news of Dan's death was reported, the Petaluma store closed up for the rest of the day. Within an hour, the flowers and notes and poems began to appear, originally placed neatly in front of the door--or taped to the glass--before being moved the next day to the window that looks out on Kentucky Street.

It is there on Kentucky Street that I picture Dan whenever I think of him now, because it was there that I so often encountered him, a cup of coffee in one hand and a cigarette in the other, stopping to engage in passionate, unpredictable conversation--and often suggesting some new and unusual story idea he was sure I should consider. Though it is painful to stand there now, gazing into that window, knowing I won't be seeing him there again, I feel a shock of pleasure at the words that now appear behind the glass just under Dan's name.

Peace on Earth.

Those were among his favorite words. It was Dan who first decided that "Peace on Earth" would appear at the bottom of every Copperfield's receipt, year-round. When enterprising employees tried to replace the phrase with witty literary quotations, Dan was quick to put "Peace on Earth" back where it belonged. For Dan Jaffe--one of the original founders of Petaluma's hard-working homeless aid program, COTS, and a participant in numerous other philanthropic efforts--being alive was all about bringing peace to the planet. He showed that in the way he lived his own life.

"He was there--spiritually and emotionally--for his employees, his friends, everyone," says Art Kusnetz, manager of the Petaluma Copperfield's used and rare department. "You couldn't count how many people Dan has helped," he adds. "Seriously, he was the Mother Teresa of bookstore owners."

"Dan was such an amazing person," adds Christy Silacci, a longtime friend who describes Jaffe as the perfect synthesis of capitalist businessman and practical communist. "He was very generous with his money, when he had money," she says. "His real spirit was one of giving."

When Barry Lazarus opened up Petaluma's Red Devil Records down the street from Copperfield's, Dan was there within days to buy a giant stack of CDs, just to help out the new kid on the block.

"Every week after that he'd come in and buy more CDs," says Lazarus. "It amazed me that he did that because he paid me retail when he could have just bought them at wholesale through his own store." Adds Lazarus, "Dan was one of the biggest jazz buffs I've ever known in my life. He was very passionate, very knowledgeable about jazz."

He was also very passionate about the sound system he used to play all those jazz CDs on. He had theories about sound and the flow of electricity. He often told me that he had perfect hearing ("You've heard of 20/20 vision?" he once said. "I have 20/20 hearing.") and spent fifteen years acquiring the components for a perfect sound system. According to Kusnetz, it was only a few months ago that Dan announced he'd finally achieved his dream. He finally had a perfect sound system.

It was, in fact, in front of his stereo, sitting in his favorite chair, that Dan was found a week ago Tuesday morning. Though we are all grieving to let him go, it's some comfort to know that he went out the way he'd have wanted to. That's partly why there are books on Thelonius Monk propped up in the window along with all those flowers. Because our friend would have wanted that.

So rest in peace, Dan.

Peace on Earth.

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From the March 28-April 3, 2002 issue of the North Bay Bohemian.

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