Save the St. Marks Bookshop Has 27,000 Signatures...But Can a Petition Save St. Marks Bookshop?
The St. Marks Bookshop, a lovely place very near Voice headquarters, surrounded by several other lovely places (and some less lovely) that have changed numerous times since we were college students staying at an NYU dorm for the summer, has managed to hang on -- since 1977, albeit in a few different locations -- despite the ever-increasing rent, despite the "problem" of "books" these days, despite, basically, everything. But, as we've written previously, that may be coming to an end. Their landlord, Cooper Union, has increased the rent to $20,000 a month, which the owners fear could put them out of business -- they're asking for a rent reduction of $5,000 a month, in lieu of dropping sales. A petition is circulating the Internet in their support; it's been signed by more than 27,000 people. Today, Borough President Scott Stringer wrote a letter to Cooper Union President Jamshed Bharucha, remarking on the bookstore's deep significance to the neighborhood, and how the East Village cannot afford to lose it.
An excerpt from that letter:
"Long-time neighborhood institutions such as this independent bookstore, as well as other cultural institutions and small businesses, are what make the East Village a dynamic, unique neighborhood that we so cherish. We must do everything we can to hold onto those long-running businesses that express the neighborhood's unique character."
27,000 people. If they each bought a book, say, a paperback copy of Jennifer Egan's A Visit From the Goon Squad, $14.95 at St. Marks ($9.39 on Amazon.com) in September, the shop would make approximately $405,000. More than enough for to pay the month's rent -- spread it out over a few, even -- with money to cover other costs, too. But that doesn't happen, not even in the heady days when everyone loved paper.
We're not arguing that the bookstore deserves to close. But if people aren't going to buy books -- and we're going to admit that the last few we purchased were from Amazon (sorry), what's the inevitable result, even if we do in our deepest of hearts want the last vestiges of non-Starbucksian culture to survive in the city?
The question of the St. Marks Bookshop is a broader question of what the East Village -- what New York -- has become. If the "character" institutions have to be fought and petitioned for in order to survive on subsidized rents while the soulless, mass-market places that bring in money and surround these old gems, gradually grinding them down bit by bit because they can pay more, thrive...don't we only have ourselves to blame, and not because we didn't sign a petition? How many people have been to a Starbucks today?
Stating the weird conundrum of an Internet petition saving a bricks and mortar bookstore perhaps exactly is this quote from Alice Notley, poet and finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in 1999, whom WNYC quotes in their piece about the bookstore's battle:
"I've spent my entire professional life in touch with it," she said of the store. "These are my friends. You don't have friends online."
Today, generations would disagree. Many of them have probably signed that petition. Have they been into the store?
But maybe there's hope. After a discussion between Bob Contant and Terence McCoy, co-owners of St. Mark's Bookshop, and Theresa C. Westcott, Cooper Union's Vice President of Finance, Administration, and Treasury, Westcott will be presenting the issue to Cooper Union's president and trustees. The parties will meet again next week, and "[W]e're optimistic that we can work things out," Contant said.
If that fails? Another alternative would be to move operations to a cheaper spot:
One real estate analyst, David Nouhian of the Metropolitan Property Group, argues that the most sensible solution would be for St. Mark's to move to a cheaper location, perhaps mid-block.
"That landlord could get a lot more than $20,000 a month in today's market," Nouhian said.
Just like we want to save money (or add convenience to our lives) by buying our books from Amazon, or at a Borders going out of business sale (ugh), can we blame a landlord, even Cooper Union, for wanting to get the money they can make on a space? They're landlords, after all. New Yorkers know not to expect too much of them.
The only people we can rely on to save the businesses we want to see in our neighborhoods are ourselves. And if St. Marks manages to stay in business at their current location, and we want them to remain -- we better start buying our books there.
Previously: Rent Too Damn High for St. Mark's Bookshop; East Village Institution Might Have to Close
The Fight to Save St. Marks Bookshop [WNYC]
[Updated] Report: St. Mark's Bookshop and Cooper Union to meet again next week [EV Grieve]
Let's all buy one book from St. Mark's this weekend. Consider it a campaign of unbridled optimism. (And please pass this post on to all your Facebook friends, blog readers, tweeters, etc. The Internet is killing bookstores, might as well use it to try and save one.)
You don't even have to go into the shop--you can sit on your ass and buy it online. It's as easy as Amazon! (If you're one of those Kindle people, you can even buy an evil ebook, if you absolutely insist...the money is going to a good place, so you get a pass. This time.)
This is how the Internet can help save a bricks and mortar bookstore.