The Don Quixote of Chambers Street

I first walked to the other side of the street when I saw Bill Gunlocke, stationed in front of the Tweed Courthouse on Chambers with his hand-lettered sign. But upon closer inspection, his gaze didn’t seem too crazy or creepy so I stopped to chat. In the 10 minutes I spent talking to him, more than a few regulars stopped by, high-fived, shook hands, patted their hearts, greeted him with a “God bless.” It seems he has become an institution of a kind, and here’s his story:

Gunlocke moved to the city from Cleveland 20 years ago to start a national book magazine that never took off. Before that he had an independent weekly called the Cleveland Edition. He lives in the Gramercy Park area. He raised three daughters who all went to public school, as do his grandkids now. He’s 72 and has a blog called City Reader. I had to know what his kids thought of this. “My three daughters (ages 50, 49 and 44) have always seen me, I think, as an honest guy. I taught in the inner city, had a bookstore, started an alternative weekly, and now the sign. They accept me.”

Every day between 8 and 9a, Gunlocke stands on the sidewalk with a sign that reads, “Why not teach every school kid to read well.” He’s been at it six or seven years – he’s not sure exactly how long. He only misses for rain, wet snow or travel to see his kids.

In front of the Department of Education headquarters at the Tweed Courthouse, 52 Chambers.

He says he was sitting on his couch listening to sports radio (he does not have a TV) when the entire sentence came to him, almost like a vision, with the punctuation and everything. (No question mark, just a period.) He knew right away what he had to do, and he did it. “It’s my obsession. It is also interesting, standing here, as a citizen.”

He’s sees no immediate reason to stop, but if he did, he figures it will be because of a bum shoulder, old age or if the DoE reacts. “If they acknowledge that reading was the center piece, I might stop. I blame the daily papers. They never focus on reading and talk about everything else. They talked more about ‘Hamilton’ than they talked about kids and reading.” He’s on his sixth sign.

“You see the numbers — so few kids are reading at grade level. If the system only focused on this, they would know what to do, they’d even know what teachers to hire.” His sign gives them the brief. “Some guy who works in there came by and said, ‘You’re in their dreams.’”



  1. My son went to 52 chambers for preschool a few years ago and I would see the man with the sign anytime I did morning dropoff. I’ve always wondered why/what he was trying to do and now I wish I would have stopped and at least have had a conversation with him. Sounds like a solid individual trying to help improve society with no ulterior motives, which these days is like seeing a unicorn.

  2. I’m a tutor in an after school program called Two by Two Tutoring and we help children from graded 2-12 with reading, reading comprehension, math and many other subjects that teachers don’t have time to fully work on with their students. The program is at 55 Water Street.

  3. What a peach you are Mr. Gunlocke! Thank you.