Wednesday, January 20, 2016

A sign of hope for St. Mark's Bookshop


[Image via Facebook]

There's a positive development to note in the ongoing saga of St. Mark's Bookshop. Most recently, there were published reports that the rent-challenged shop at 136 E. Third St. between Avenue A and First Avenue was facing eviction by its landlord — the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA)

Now according to Publishers Weekly (via a post on the St. Mark's Bookshop Facebook page), an investor stepped forward to help the shop that has been in business in the neighborhood for 39 years.

Per Publishers Weekly:

An investor responded to the bookstore’s latest financial appeal on GoFundMe. He will take over the store’s lease and pay the back rent of $62,000, if the store raises enough money to stock the store. “He believes, as I do,” wrote co-owner Bob Contant on Monday, “that if we fill the store with books, our business will increase and we’ll be able to pay our way.”

In addition, the NYCHA has agreed to settle. However, as Publishers Weekly noted, the bookshop still has a long way to go. As of last night, they had raised just under $22,000 of their original $150,000 goal. It was not noted just yet how much money is necessary to stock the store.

Previous on EV Grieve:
Report: Latest woe for St. Mark's Bookshop — possible eviction

32 comments:

Anonymous said...

That's not enough. Get then a business coach. If they don't learn how to run their business in 2016 they'll be back to begging in six months. Simply throwing money at them isn't enough. They've been given money over and over and fail to understand what's gotten them to that point.

Anonymous said...

You can't fix what doesn't realize it needs fixing. They are getting used to people bailing them out and are not figuring out what they are doing wrong. Their rent is way below market for the neighborhood and if they still can't survive put a fork in them. I love bookstores and am an author but if these idiots don't realize that you need to market your product and not simply beg for money they deserve to fade away.

Caleo said...

Yeah, sounds nice...but no. How these guys survived as long as they have is a mystery to me. They should have stocked the shelves before opening, but instead hired an architect. Less PoMo Critical Theory and more of everything else. As much as I wish it was, it's not 1988 anymore.
I don't want to hear their incessant refrain that they were "undercapitalized".
It's not up to the public to save them for the 3rd or 4th time.
As a former frequent visitor to both of the older incarnations, it's time to hang it up and call it a day.

Gojira said...

I sincerely hope one of the strictures this well-meaning investor put in place was that the staff must start treating customers with politeness and courtesy, instead of as if they were ambulatory chunks of clothed feces.

Anonymous said...

An "investor", huh? Sounds legit.

Anonymous said...

"They should have stocked the shelves before opening, but instead hired an architect."

Totally agree. The architect thing really makes it hard to sympathize...

Anonymous said...

This store refuses to give up. It doesn't matter what the stakes are. They are relentless. If they continue to stay open, they must change how they interact with their consumers. Whenever I've visited, the employees couldn't care less or bother to look up or ask if you need something or have a question. When you happen to ask, they seem bothered or annoyed. Get with the program, St.Marks. You are not the only game in town.

Anonymous said...

Haters will hate, but these guys know how to get paid in America in 2016!!!

Anonymous said...

This place reminds me of Jason in those Halloween movies, die already.

nygrump said...

if intellectual thought has become a cultural institution like opera, than it must be supported financially outside the profit model.

Its not their fault we live in a debt economy. the hate against this bookstore is interesting. all the hate against st marks books reminds me of the concerted attacks a couple years ago against the decades old University of the Streets and that place is gone...

they thought working out a well considered space in advance would be good, but that seems to have pissed people off. and then everyone seems pissed off because they don't have a walmart greeter. i'm guessing being an employee there is a lean experience, if the clerk instead of seeming disinterested and suggesting amazon had instead said the business couldn't get credit to order books would that have satisfied? actually i think the clerk was helping out in his own way, professionally all he should have said was, sorry, that is unavailable to us. and left it there, but instead, he included a detail that might help. maybe he didn't smile hard enough? a lot of people around us who don't function like an Apluser aren't that way because they are stupid, but in fact know way too much.

maybe i'm simply missing them, but there doesn't seem to be any events in the space with writers and poets and type thing.

Anonymous said...

Put in a coffee bar!

Anonymous said...

@nygrump

No business could survive with thin inventory and such an aloof staff, I think any sympathy for this place comes from people thinking because this is a place of "knowledge" it should be given a pass on the very basics on sustaining a business. The constant bailouts from I assume locals is money down the drain for an owner which refuses to change what is wrong with his business and learn from his mistakes. People also romanticize book and bookstores which is fine but obviously these people are not finding what they want to buy at this shop and romance does not pay the rent unless of course you sell a ton of romance novels.

Perhaps the anger being posted here comes from that friend or family member we all know, which this store reminds us of, bad with money, constantly has a hand out for a loan which is never repaid, and is incapable of learning from one stumble after the other.

Anonymous said...

Beer store!

Anonymous said...

I think they need to narrow and sharpen their focus to make this work. They are too small and too poor to be successful as simply a general interest book store. How about a New York-centric bookstore? New York authors, cookbooks, guidebooks, histories, photography, literary journals, and even poetry. CDs and DVDs? How about some artwork on the walls? Some pictures of the old locations. All those years in business and there's no sense of history in the new place...

Anonymous said...

When I read "A sign of hop..." I thought they were going to start selling beer!

They should do that, though. Plenty of bookstores have beer.

Anonymous said...

This "investor" has seen St Mark's blow through a few big influxes of completely free money in a staggeringly short time. I don't know how that doesn't send them running for the hills. I'd hope that this investor is going to control or at least very heavily influence the management of the store and start fixing the serious problems they have.

Also, a coffee counter would be a great idea.

flo said...

In defence of the whole architect thing, I think they had good intentions. I personally could give two shits abt the interior design. Gimme East Village Books or Strand. I don't go to bookstores to be seen. I either have a few specific books in mind that Im hoping to find at a bargain or I simply want to browse - Books!
But given the changing makeup of the neighborhood and the example of Barnes and Noble, it does not seem so farfetched that they would feel it necessary to display their wares in a more elegant setting.
In hindsight, the outlay was probably one of many poor business decisions. But at the time - knowing they basically had one shot to give the place the look they wanted - it must have been a tough call and not simply the product of vanity, extravagance and conspicuous consumption.
I rue the demise of any bookstore. Sure, you can find most of what youre looking for on Amazon, but the treasure of bookstores is combing through the shelves and uncovering what you didnt have in mind, perhaps didnt even realize existed.
The problem wt Amazon and B&N is they are consumer driven and market focused and I believe this lends itself to a lessening of options and perhaps even a narrowing of mind.
Ive found many wonders in the earlier St. Marks locations, especially the Specials section on Third Ave. Perhaps theyre too far behind the eightball to pull through, but Im still rooting for them.

Anonymous said...

They should take a class from McNally Jackson! STOCK the SHELVES! have READINGS/BOOK CLUBS... and be NICE!

Whenever I go there.. there is never anything on shelves.. and clerks seem MISERABLE!

I emailed them about starting a Book Club, NO REPLY!

Anonymous said...

i agree with all the other commenters: the staff is absolutely terrible &, in the interest of generating a profit, should all be fired immediately. this alleged investor should make that a pre-condition of capitalization. the owners should realize that a store's stock is only partly responsible for a retail business's success & that the other (equal) part is the people staffing it. obviously the present owners have chosen, time & again, to be loyal to their absolutely impersonal employees instead of to their customers. this decision breeds insolvency, endlessly dispatches turned-off customers elsewhere, & sends the owners to the web begging for (more) money.

fire everyone.

Anonymous said...

Per a previous post/comment section, didn't the architect provide his services for a drastically reduced price or pro-bono?

Anonymous said...

The new design may have worked on paper, but then they set up the rest of the store (tables, chairs, aisles) with no discernible space to actually stop and browse. I notice they put one chair near the sales items but stack it so high that you can't sit there and peruse.

The older locations, while not award-winning, allowed you to actually stop in various locations and thumb through material and kept display copies so you could then buy a more pristine copy. This new location has none of that, let alone any growth in their collections.

I was a regular patron. I'd much rather walk across town to 3 lives now and find some treasures there.

Anonymous said...

If you have a small business that is struggling why aren't you the one behind the counter ringing up the sales and yes nygrump greeting customers? I shop locally all the time, even though that is harder to do and in most places I step in I am either greeted when I come in or thanked or at least acknowledged when I leave. At St. Mark's books neither of these things happen. If the owners were in the store, they would need less employees, could communicate with customers and hear what they want etc and adjust their business accordingly. Instead they just keep telling us they need a handout. Go take out a small business loan to restock, SBS has low interest loans for qualifying businesses, stop asking for donations. This was the first time that I didn't set foot inside St. Mark's book to do my holiday shopping, something I have been doing for 23 years. In terms of the design, the architects fee was apparently steeply discounted and certainly not something that chewed up much of the money they raised last time. Sounds like there is more to this then meets the eye.

Anonymous said...

I'm another person in agreement that unfortunately St. Marks never mastered the art of friendliness. And like 3:41 above, I've become a fan of Three Lives too! They do everything right there. It's cozy, has a great selection, and a gracious staff.

chris flash said...

ENOUGH OF THE TRASHING ALREADY!!

Have any posters here brought their complaints (and, in some cases, valid and helpful suggestions) to the attention of the owners or is joining the herd in trashing SMB and gleefully awaiting their demise what really gets you off?

Jeez....how can so many seem to ENJOY losing yet ANOTHER bookstore in what's left of our community????

Anonymous said...

I fear for the "investor" who dumped money into this pit. I worry it is someone with good intentions who doesn't know anything about business. I love bookshops, but this place is mismanaged.

Christopher Pelham said...

The architect fee was minimal (it's a very small space after all) but it did enable them to display books better than if they had just thrown up shelves themselves, and it got them free publicity.

Anonymous said...

"The problem wt Amazon and B&N is they are consumer driven and market focused and I believe this lends itself to a lessening of options and perhaps even a narrowing of mind."

This makes absolutely no sense. One can find virtually any book on Amazon, including those out of print -- how is this a lessening of options? As for the narrowing of mind, oh please. I've known quite a few narrow-minded lit snobs in my day.

I love bookstores (although I am totally put off by SMB's begging and snobbery, and Strand is disorganized and annoying -- EVB is the best bookstore in our neighborhood IMO). But sometimes I just need a specific book. If I can't find it quickly in a shop, I'm going to Amazon.

flo said...

To 7:05 am and whoever else may be interested:

I am not totally condemning Amazon. I use them and appreciate them as an outlet to purchase hard to find books.

Having said that, I try to remain aware of the process taking place when I use them.

For instance, if I wish to learn more about a topic I am very much a novice in, I may do a topic search on Amazon. Generally what comes up are the bestselling books on said topic. (Fair enough, they are a business after all.) But these bestsellers are for the most part products of the larger publishing houses. Part of the reason they are best sellers is that they have the promotional budget and retail venues of said publishing houses behind them.

Generally, the books that receive this backing are the ones most palatable to a wide audience. With the exception of bios and other genres that are meant to be tantalizing and provocative, these books are chosen for their potential wide appeal and because they are not so controversial as to alienate a large segment of possible readership.

I suggest this is similar to the phenomenon of pop radio. The commercial stations are backed by the larger music labels. There is a playlist or at least a protocol to play particular songs within particular intervals. These songs are simply 'in the air.' You hear them in bars and restaurants. You hear them when you turn on the radio. There is a mimetic process taking place. You know the words, you anticipate the hooks, there is the comfort of familarity. I am not totally against pop radio. Some of it I like very much. But I do try to remain aware of the process.

I suggest that a similar process occurs wt Amazon. You are pointed towards particular well known books on a topic. If you have a limited, purial interest in said topic you are most likely to purchase one of these books. Some of these books - rightly or wrongly - even reach the staus of 'the book' on the topic.

I believe this is the experience of most casual readers. In general, we read the same few books and have our opinions slanted towards the opinions of the same few authors. Hence, our opinions are funneled towards a particular consensus.

Granted, if I am obstinate enough to venture further down the rabbit hole,I may come upon dissenting voices (and I applaud Amazon for not censoring these options). But from the brief description I get from Amazon I must now make a decision. Am I really willing to invest the money and energy in this little known book that I may find completely unconvincing and unsubstantiated?

If I stumble upon the same book in a bookstore I can thumb through it. I can skim over various passages and form a more measured opinion as to whether I want to make the investment.

Again, Im not condemning Amazon or B&N, but I am very wary of them becoming our only outlets.

If you want to quibble about 'lessening of options' point well taken. But in the larger picture, I wrote it and I'll own it: 'I believe this lends itself to a lessening of options and perhaps even a narrowing of mind.'

[Sorry for being so long winded. I just think there is something extremely important here to our ever evolving and maliable culture.]

Anonymous said...

flo, with all due respect, I think you're talking about a problem that is specific mostly to you.

Anonymous said...

flo, to elaborate: if someone wishes to know more about a subject in order to find a book to read on it, wouldn't they google the subject first? Or go to a library? Or look at some book reviews, or the bibliography of a book they've already read on the subject? I don't think serious readers are using Amazon as their primary search source, and those who do use it well are probably excellent at searching … or maybe they ARE general readers of big trade books and they LIKE the recs that Amazon makes for them. There is nothing wrong with that.

You are clearly erudite and don't strike me as someone who uses Amazon for primary searching of topics. If you're worried that the chick lit/celebrity memoir/self-help masses are lessening their options by buying what Amazon tells them to, well, at least they are buying books. I am not worried for these people.

Book publishing is not like radio; bestsellers are not always literature, but they keep the lights on.

Anonymous said...


People need to stop siding with businesses rather than with the people. It's a common problem around here. Are you aware that there are certain small businesses around here that certain landlords are partners in, and did you know that certain small businesses have been part of ridding certain buildings of the last remaining stabilized tenants. Take a look at a business that will be branding another at another location and take a good look at their contracor.

Not saying that that's what this is, however I don't think that they could give a rats ass about the neighborhood and its people at large. At the time of their move to NYCHA there was a fund raiser for the funeral of a man who was murdered in the neighborhood and not too many people donated to that.

Okay let's let well enough alone and hope for the best. I did shop there during the holidays and I have suggested things. Saying that we should have to bend for them over and over again is like telling a victim that it's their own fault.

Gojira said...

Jeremiah has a post on Vanishing New York today suggesting that the bookstore is shuttering, possibly as soon as tomorrow. They only raised 25K of the 150K they were seeking in their last GoFundMe, so...