Leonard Riggio and
Abraham Foxman

Marie Toulantis, president of

Abe Foxman and wife Golda

Mary and Frank Sirianni, Riggio’s
boyhood pal

Leonard Riggio and Tony Bennett

Abe Foxman Finds It Pays
Not to Ignore Your Mail

Story and Photos by Tim Boxer

ORMER Senator Bill Bradley of New Jersey once got a letter asking him to invest in a new bookstore. He ignored the offer.  But that didn’t deter Leonard Riggio, the determined letter writer, from going on to create an enterprise known today as Barnes & Noble.

In 1996 his company published a book that seemed to contain anti-Semitic references. Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, fired off a letter to the company.

Riggio does not ignore letters. His reply was three pages long, disagreeing with Foxman’s assessment.

Foxman sent another letter, this time conceding that “maybe you are also right.”

Next day Riggio called. “I get many letters,” he said. “Yours was the first that said maybe I am also right. Let’s have lunch.”

That lunch led to a magnificent dinner which ADL threw at the Waldorf-Astoria to honor Riggio with its Americanism Award.

It seemed like every CEO in the book publishing industry came to pay tribute to the chairman of a company that operates 2,400 retail stores.

Among 1,200 powerhouse guests were a sprinkling of writers, such as Cynthia Ozick, Kurt Vonnegut, Judy Blume, David Halberstam and Peggy Noonan, plus former mayors David Dinkins and Ed Koch, and Tony Bennett who sang for his dinner.

Also present were Frank Sirianni and wife Mary. He is vice president of R&M Richards. “I went to Brooklyn Tech with Riggio,” he told me.

The black-tie event was a record breaker for the ADL, having raised $2 million.

“Bubele, come here,” Foxman said as he presented Riggio, a devout Catholic, with a painting from a Jerusalem artist.

“Mom, did you hear this?” Riggio said. “I was just bar mitzvahed.”

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