Wednesday, August 5, 2015

St. Mark's Bookshop seeking buyers with an ownership interest



St. Mark's Bookshop opened in its new home at 136 E. Third St. just west of Avenue A last July 19 after well-documented financial struggles with escalating rents and declining business at its previous home on Third Avenue.

Despite lower rents in the new location, the bookshop is still in arrears. Here's part of a letter that Bookshop co-owner Bob Contant sent out to patrons this morning:

We love our new space. It recently won the American Institute of Architects award for Interior Design.

Unfortunately, we were undercapitalized for the cost of the move. We were forced out of our old space before our new one was ready, and the cost of going into storage plus construction overruns left little money with which to buy inventory. Those of you who have visited our new store in recent months may have noticed the understocked shelves.

For 37 years St. Mark's Bookshop has been a beacon of culture in the East Village, attracting people from across the city, the nation, and around the world. We remain committed to providing a showcase for the life of the mind as expressed by the best books and periodicals being published today, as well as stocking the best of the past. We hold readings and events you cannot find elsewhere. To continue in our mission we need people who value our work and goals to help us.

Please consider buying an ownership interest in a new St. Mark's Bookshop. We have been approached by an investor who is interested in funding a rebirth of the bookstore, reorganizing and restructuring the business with an eye to long term viability. He is looking for others to join him in an investment team. Please contact me if this prospect interests you.

So many people have told us that they need us here in the East Village. We want to continue to serve you and the world of thought and literature. Please help to make that possible, and as always, we appreciate your continued support.

Co-owner Terry McCoy told DNAinfo's Lisha Arino today that the shop isn't in in danger of closing in the immediate future.

"We are in a difficult situation financially and every day is a new challenge. But we don't have any plans to close. That's why we’re pursuing this, we want to take action now to be able to continue."

Previously on EV Grieve:
Report: St. Mark's Bookshop prepping fundraiser ahead of possible move to Avenue A.

Is this the new home for the St. Mark's Bookshop?

Report: St. Mark's Bookshop signs lease for East 3rd Street space

Renovations at the future St. Mark's Bookshop on East 3rd Street

36 comments:

Anonymous said...

They have already crowd funded TWICE!

Anonymous said...

These guys have been filled with themselves as far back when they split off from the original East Side Bookstore because they thought it was too, uh, East Village. A beacon of culture it is not.

I don't hear any complaining from the East Village Book Shop just down the block between A and First that's been running for years without "investors."

Anonymous said...

Contact info would be a helpful thing to post for folks interested in supporting the shop.

Anonymous said...

You may call the store and ask for Bob or Terry!

(212) 260-7853

Anonymous said...

I love East Village Book Shop too! But they are not "just down the block." They are on St. Mark's Place, which is five blocks away.

Also, they are a USED book shop. Big difference in buying inventory. Ditto for Mast at 66 Avenue A. They are a USED book shop.

Anonymous said...

unfortunately the foot traffic at the new location must be 1/5 that of the old location. good luck.

Anonymous said...

Jesus Christ already. How did they manage to stay in business so long? This constant online begging is gross and at some point they either need to get their shit together or close.

Anonymous said...

They should partner with Amazon.

Anonymous said...

I am sure there will be an outcry about how the East Village cannot afford to let this "treasure" die and thus rob the neighborhood of a central cultural location in an era of chain book stores and the elephant in the room--Amazon. How dangerous it will be for "culture" if we allow this bookstore to pass into history. Ah well!! The prevailing attitude seems to be that the lack of a practical business plan should always be excused and that readers must come to our aid and save us once again. Again and again, we could not have planned for what happened to us!! There is little stock in the store because publishers and distributors are demanding payment on delivery of books. So the owners are caught in a bind. It is hard to tell people who have been in business for 40 years to face the reality that under their business leadership this store may not have a viable future. It is so easy now to say, they should have done this, they should have done that. It is all too late. They lost me as a client a few years ago. It is a bit of a hike for me, but I'd prefer to shop at McNally Jackson. This is a sad story.

Christopher Pelham said...

I am curious why anyone would prefer McNally Jackson. Their book selection is much more commercial and less interesting. Whatever shortcomings the St. Mark's may have (and I don't know that they have any faults other lacking money), they are, for me, wonderful curators. I always find really interesting books there that I didn't know about and I especially appreciate their selection of foreign novels in translation as well as film and cultural theory books, some of which are hard to find anywhere outside of academic bookstores.

Anonymous said...

I too am surprised how they have continued to stay afloat, much less in business. I think the unfortunate truth is given the state of their finances, it is unlikely if they will stay open. Bookstores will soon be a thing of the past. :(

Anonymous said...

Independent bookstores hold readings, which brings authors, editors, agents together with writers, aspiring writers, and readers.

No online bookseller can do that.

St. Marks holds wonderful readings. If you haven't been there, you are missing out.

Perhaps a partner (or even a silent partner) will manifest. I hope so!!!

Anonymous said...

It appears a small business like this is not sustainable in the new East Village. The new residents don't strike me as the types who like to stay home with a good book, and the rest of us are struggling to pay our rents now and can't buy as many new books as we used to. I treat myself to the occasional new book when I can, but I shop for reading material at the Salvation Army on Fourth Avenue and the Strand's bargain bins, and I trade books with friends. Also, I know it was hard to find a space they could afford, but there isn't a huge flow of foot traffic where they are located now. As much as I love books, I don't think this is a good investment for any investor.

Anonymous said...

The best investor would be someone who can really afford to invest, i.e., may not make lots of money, but has lots of cash and believes in the business!

Or possibly lots of small investors?

Anonymous said...

A friend of mine use to deal in rare and hard to find out of print books. Her business went belly up with the growth of Abe Books (online(, Amazon, Ebay and other internet shops. The internet made finding books and the best price for that book easier than ever before. Retail book sellers have little future unfortunately even giants like B&N are shrinking and closing stores throughout the country. In a really tough commercial leases landscape like the EV it has become almost impossible for any business other than a bar/restaurant or chain store to survive. This company in particular has had its struggles and even though it has moved to much cheaper space they have distanced themselves from a high traffic area (NYU-ville). My personal experience here was not great the last few times I bought something. Most people want a friendly small shop experience when entering a place like this, well they will never get it there. The management seems to not understand this and the always indifferent staff knows no better. I've worked in retail (small shops) most of my life in NYC and I know customers could easily go to bigger store with more selection and better prices but they instead came back to the shops I worked in, the reason being the personal, attentive experience.

nygrump said...

Of course bookstores are dying, the pod people don't read books, because that behavior isn't part of the surveillance state. They want to read online, so their every page turn is recorded by the surveillance state. The pods hate cabs because they want their every uber ride tracked and recorded by the surveillance state. The pods hate cash because then the surveillance state doesn't know what they are buying. But the pods are temporary, soon the direct impants will be here and the pods will fight each other for to get them.

Anonymous said...

Christopher answered the queations. Is there a market in the 2015 EV for 'film and cultural theory books'? I prefer the Strand and McNally Jackson.

Anonymous said...

I am not sure what Christopher Pelham means by "wonderful curators." He has identified what I think a problem this store had in its last years on Third Avenue. They stocked university press "film and cultural theory books" which had outrageous prices (priced because a sale of 200 paperback books for university presses was considered decent). Of course the flavors of the month, Derrida, Lacan, Deleuze had an audience, but I think the prices were too extravagant for most people. The old location had some interesting sale items on the back table, but they never really saw that as an important part of their stock. As for McNally Jackson, the quality of the stock may not be to your taste. And we might not agree on what all of the out-of-the-way books you think of (including translations of foreign authors), and the lit crit and cultural crit books, are "relevant." I do find an eclectic collection there. But that is what individuality is about. In the last five years or so the staffs at bookstores have dropped their haughtiness, and have become more service oriented. This was for me a problem with St. Marks Books in its old location. I just don't see given the track record of the owners, their inability to evolve a business plan, and sadly their off the beaten track location, how the New St. Marks can survive. Once again, everyone is to blame. Milennials, unlike people who post here, don't read! The "new" residents of the EV are u.s.w. (not interested in books the way "we" are). It is easy to create a smokescreen and then blame blame blame. As people have noted, books have become expensive, rents are high, workers need a decent wage (and they need help with healthcare--and they need to know that employers are meeting their obligations to them), overhead expands. It is not easy to keep a business going.

Anonymous said...

Here's something that would help: STOCKING MORE CHILDREN'S BOOKS. Bob and Terry have heard this desire from their new immediate community (located in a public housing complex, across the street from a public elementary school), but last time I looked, they had not beefed up that section.
Maybe a new investor will understand that a small local store needs to be more responsive to local desires.
I wish St. Marks all the best!
Many times when I want to order a book, I do it through them to give them some business.

Dan C said...

I had been patronizing St Marks in all three of its past locations. It used to be a great place to spend an afternoon and discover new things. But I'm a little confused ny this assumption that they were only about the "cultural theory books" They've ALWAYS stocked the latest fiction and non-fiction, including potboiler paperbacks. Yes, it was a place to buy the latest Derrida, Foucault and Zizek, but I liked it for the zines, underground mags and eclectic fiction, travel, photography books and LGBT sections as well.

The problem is that even before this latest move, the selection dropped. REALLY dropped. And if you go in now, there are walls of those paperback fiction titles but not a lot of anything else. And for all it's award winning architecture, it's not as easy to browse and read while there (Typical architects...never thinking of actual day to day use).

I love bookstores. I will always go to bookstores. But I'm agreeing they need to change that business model. I'm not a huge fan of McNalley Jackson but at least I know I'll find things there. (And they have a lot of the independent stuff SMB used to have). The Strand, Three Lives, some places have managed better.

And also...I haven't heard of ANY events, readings etc....where are they marketing this?

Anonymous said...

It's true that you never hear about readings at St. Mark's Books, like they want you to come by, but not really. Why not send the Grieve a press release once or twice a month to let us know about said readings? I've never read much of anything here about that. As a total paper book worm, I make every effort to buy new books that are signed by the authors because they hold their value much better, but like others have said in the comments, those of us who are left (and who still read books) are having to lay out much more in rent, food costs, utility costs, healthcare (dream on!), and just day-to-day survival expenses. How I wish I could return to the days when I would walk in there and blow $75 on books without a second thought. These days, I rely on the NYPL, book swaps, street sellers, and book giveaways. But I agree, all of this begging for help has left me thinking, perhaps those folks in charge are overpaying themselves? It's become a bookstore that cried wolf syndrome. If there are so many quality readings, then advertise that as well as the fact that you need investors. I also have to agree with the other commenters who expressed the disdain of the help at St. Mark's books. Again, it's like we want you as a customer, maybe, maybe not... sort of like how the employees at Kim's used to be. For those who might care: Ottendoffer branch of the NYPL has a GREAT book swap on the third Saturday of every month. No cash, just swapping.

Anonymous said...

I was never really a fan of this bookstore but I wanted to keep it in the neighborhood and contributed to their fundraising. While I understand the sentiment to want to stay in the EV, perhaps a move closer to the New School would have been a better option? More critical thinking readers there, not so far from School of Visual Arts for the film buffs, etc. and maybe pick up some new customers from the indie movie theaters. Also, I think the rents in "middle" village may be somewhat reasonable.

Anonymous said...

I've shopped at St. Mark's Bookshop since they were located on St. Mark's. Over the years, I've probably spent more money on books at St. Mark's than at any other book store. I've made friends there, discovered any number of writers and books, and generally considered the place my community college. I'm completely biased, I love St. Mark's Bookshop. Yes, they've had ups and downs. Yeah, sometimes Bob and Terry seem crazy. No, they have not done particularly well with adapting to changes in the market. However, at least for me, they are a significant feature of the neighborhood and worth supporting. I really don't understand the hostility I see to small businesses in the comments on EVGrieve. So what if some small shops don't turn a significant profit every year? So what if certain shops and services are more or less always going to run in the red? So what if St. Mark's has to have fundraisers to survive? Some places, some services, have value to their communities far beyond whatever money changes hands. Yes, of course, business is cutthroat but . . . it's also true that communities everywhere find ways to maintain at least some shops and services--churches, medical care, arts of various kinds, libraries, schools, galleries, bike rentals, parks, food coops, and so on--that are not 100% focused on profit. Communities that find ways to support diverse public spaces, educational opportunities, culture, and so on. . . tend to be stronger communities with a higher quality of life. St. Mark's is not a non-profit, perhaps it should be, but it is a significant asset to our community, a resource and not a drain on community resources (like, say, some bars are) and, I think, worth supporting.

Anonymous said...

For anyone missing the 'old' St. Mark's but NOT the universal condescension of their too-cool-for-school staff, I direct you to Three Lives Books at 154 West 10th where I have been happily shopping this summer en route to or from Hudson River Park. The staff are great as are the selection and the browsing/buying experience and customers are an eclectic mix of longtime neighborhood residents who love books plus some newbies, shoppers, tourists and students. St. Mark's was a regular late-night stop on the way home for me as I have lived just blocks away from their Ninth Street store for more than 20 years but I'm only near their new location for late-night dinners at Takahachi Sushi Avenue A and the one time I made it to the new store during what I thought were open hours they were closed. I agree their stock was always more interesting than McNally Jackson, a store I've never really warmed to, but that hasn't been the case since at least six months before they left Ninth Street due to their financial issues. This business seems to have been mismanaged into irrelevance and bankruptcy and the decision to pay market prices for an architect and the creation of his renderings for the new space rather than use that money for bare-bones steel or wood plank shelving and more stock is extremely telling. You can actually get all the Derrida you want at Barnes and Noble Union Square and browse all you want without being hassled and they have had a strong program of readings for far longer than St. Mark's which only introduced their effort shortly before the most recent move. It's really a crime Cooper Union couldn't find a way to let them stay on at a price they could afford as their absence is a huge loss to the old neighborhood and there seem to be no takers for the still-empty space at whatever rent CU is asking. Meanwhile, you can hardly get into the doors of the Strand business is so booming so I question those commenters asserting that millenials/students don't read except maybe on their various devices. Frankly, I have multiple ipads that are a critical part of my daily existence but also buy 100-200 books a year and read daily ONLY in their dead-tree formats--can't stand reading on a tablet and I don't think I'm alone. Sorry for the length, just disgusted with the St. Mark's saga at this point and loathe to hear them defended as victims.

rnh said...

Nice try. You can't run a bookstore without books. I think I have more books in my apartment.

rnh said...

Where do they publicize their readings? The new store looks nice but there is a depressing lack of books.

Anonymous said...

Strand has the advantage that they own their building.

Anonymous said...

I wonder what world Anonymous 3:46 is living in. If you run a business in the red, how do you pay your employees (and all of the attendant payments that must be made to Social Security, medicare, etc etc)? Are they supposed to work without a check? Really!! In last years on Third Avenue the store began to be poorly stocked because publishers and distributors refused to sell them books because they didn't pay their bills. This is a business!! Earlier today someone mentioned increasing the children's and young adult books. And yes, they rarely had readings.

Anonymous said...

Why not try a business model that offers both new and used books then? I cannot donate money, but I would donate books. I mean, if you cannot pay the bills, you gotta make lemonade from the lemons you've been dealt. Look at Mast Books on Ave. A; they seem to be doing okay. St. Mark's Books needs to understand that we're getting tired of learning about its business problems. How much crowd-source funding is too much? At this point, they seem foolish. The only time you ever hear from them is when they have their hands out begging. It's way past old. And they didn't need to pay a fancy architect/designer or whatever for an "award-winning" space; it's just a book shop. Maybe that's where the money went.

Anonymous said...

The two most successful bookstores in the city are Strand and Book Culture. Study them. As for Book Culture, they carry academic titles, but severely marked down, remaindered, as Strand does. Book Culute, in addition, actively promotes a membership "club" which by signing up gets discounts. They have numerous events -- poetry, fiction, scholarly, childrenb's, you name it. They have bagels on Saturday, when they offer 20% discounts on all titles, even those alrady on sale. And, the owner bowed to public outrage and negotiated with the bookstore's newly formed union. In effect, they are the neighorhood. Granted it is Columbia. But I make the trek from from the LES, so go figure.

St. Mark's needs clutter, needs more tables, and chaos. More range of books, from children's to obscure scholarly. It needs to invite the neighborhood in, but doing things. (Blue Stockings, another successful bookstore, has regular lectures, and a very loyal following.) On Third Avenue it was fringe, borderline, living off the nearby afterglow of the St. Mark's Poetry Project hipster image. It doesn't fly on East Third.

I recommended on Grieve remainders, and they took that up and began carrying sale books. The last time I went in there, though, they had the SAME sale books. Any business person knows stock rotation is the key to success.

Maybe we need the IMF to come in for some cold-cocking, arm-twisting, hard-sell business plan.

Brian said...

I live right next to this bookshop, and loved them in their old location, so I was pumped when they moved next door. Then I started going there. All their inventory is the leftover crap that didn't sell at their last location. And it didn't sell for a reason. How are you supposed to run a book store with no inventory?

These guys need to throw away their current inventory, supplement with used books if needs be, take the 'neighborhood curator' role seriously, and stop hawking crap. A decent travel section, a decent kids books section, and even a few best-seller commercial-type displays. Get me excited to stop by again.

Anonymous said...

Idlewild Books has a very focused inventory, travel related and books in foreign languages, yet not only has flourished in the Flatiron District but gone on to open two more shops in the boroughs. In addition to book signings and language courses, they send out regular emails promoting new books. The newsletter always wets my appetite for new books, either from foreign authors with whom I am unfamiliar or about places where I would never travel. The key is, they are pro-active: they are always informing me of new books and thereby encouraging me to stop in, not waiting for me to wander in off the street. Of course, for St Marks, if you have no new books, you have nothing to promote....

Dave - everywhere said...

I'm in the publishing business and while I can't speak for the industry as a whole, I think it is fair to say that publishers would love to sell to St. Marks but we just can't. Current management needs to get someone in who knows how to merchandise and sell. "Handselling" is the current buzz in the independent book store trade and it means getting your ass out from behind the counter and talking to customers and making recommendations. There is plenty of research by the book industry that shows that books are "sold" - a customer comes in to browse and leaves with a book because a knowledgeable and enthusiastic bookseller made a recommendation based on an interaction with the customer. Selection is key as well. A lot of people have made snide comments about how McNally Jackson doesn't have this or have that but they do stock a very broad range of topics including popular stuff (I can see the eyes rolling from here!) that get foot traffic into the stores. If they don't have the latest Derrida today, they can have it by tomorrow from the big distributors like Ingram or Baker & Taylor. I could go on and on but there's a business in there somewhere, I just don't know if Bob or Terry have the energy to find it.

Anonymous said...

The prices are too high. I picked up a paperback copy of Nabokov's Pale Fire, it was nearly $18, I was shocked but bought it anyway wanting to support a neighborhood business. It's unsustainable however when there a cheaper options like Strand Books nearby and online options like Half Price Books and Amazon.

"Blogger Christopher Pelham said... I am curious why anyone would prefer McNally Jackson."

I definitely prefer McNally Jackson - it's a breath of fresh air compared to SMB - wonderful photography and cookbook sections, interesting magazines, dog friendly, nice (and attractive :) staff, to name only a few plusses, there you have it, curious Chris.

Anonymous said...

People might be interested in this essay written many years ago by George Orwell, called "Bookshop Memories", about bookshops, and working in one.

Richard said...

My experiences with St mark's have been excellent. They are friendly, non-judgmental, helpful and willing to order books they don;t have in stock. They are my neighborhood bookstore. Bookstores for the mot part don;t do the volume to justify high rents and so they go out of business or relocate to areas, like St Mark's had to do, with little foot traffic. I don't consider book stores the best object of my charity, but I do regret their dwindling numbers.