Thursday, February 18, 2016
Looking to carry on the legacy of St. Mark's Bookshop
The other night, I stopped by St. Mark's Bookshop, where the cash-only, 50-percent-off clearance sale continues here on East Third Street between Avenue A and First Avenue.
To some surprise, the store still has items on the shelves ... and the recent visits haven't been quite as depressing as anticipated. (Less like a funeral and more like a co-worker's going-away luncheon.) A few curiosities remain two weeks after the last-ditch effort began at the beleaguered shop.
So in case you have travel plans to Iraq...
If you look long/hard enough, then there are a couple of decent titles left. (There's a copy of Thomas Hardy's "Mayor of Casterbridge" that will be $3 and change after the discount. As an example.)
Anyway, by now you probably know what the store is up against: A mountain of debt, including back rent, fees to publishers and wholesale distributors... not to mention unpaid sales tax.
For more background, you can read recent posts at DNAinfo ... Bedford + Bowery ... and at The New Yorker, Ada Calhoun wrote a piece published last Friday titled "What went wrong at St. Mark's Bookshop." (Spoiler: A lot.)
Even the store's most ardent supporters have said that this is truly the end for the the Bookshop (or that this should truly be the end...), on its fourth location since opening on St. Mark's Place in 1977.
I haven't heard when the shop might actually close for good. When a patron asked the other night how much longer they'd remain open at 136 E. Third St., owner Bob Contant said "I don't know."
Meanwhile, as you may have read (The Awl and Jeremiah's Vanishing New York), there continues to be a movement afoot to keep a new bookstore like St. Mark's Bookshop in the East Village ... a counterpart to crucial used shops like Mast on Avenue A and East Village Books on St. Mark's Place.
Rafael Khalid, a Brooklyn resident and bookstore lover, and longtime St. Mark's Place resident Charles Fitzgerald (once the landlord of St. Mark's Bookshop), have been working to raise money for such an endeavor.
Khalid answered a few questions on his involvement and hopes for a new bookstore in the East Village:
Why did you get involved in helping St. Mark’s Bookshop?
When I first moved to NYC, a friend introduced me to St. Mark's Bookshop. It became my favorite bookstore. I felt I could make a difference in the community and help my favorite bookstore at the same time. I joined a committee of 13 friends of St. Mark's Bookshop that volunteered to help the store survive and continue. I was asked to lead the effort and continued getting results (like moving to a new location).
What is your current plan?
I have given everything I have to save and help St. Mark's Bookshop. But now, the plan is to raise $200,000 for a new store that carries on the legacy of St. Mark's Bookshop. There will be a new management committee, new books, and new energy. But it will carry on the best traditions of St. Mark's Bookshop, like having any author put books on consignment at the store, giving local writers, poets, and activists a voice to be heard, and having a gathering place for the community.
I'm just a facilitator who gets things done. I would love to partner with a local indie bookstore to complete this vision. Then I can move onto helping other bookstores and literary projects.
The store has been holding a clearance sale. Do you know what the next steps are for the store as it exists now?
I'm no longer involved with the store. Bob Contant has always been and always will be in charge of St. Mark's Bookshop as owner of the store. He all of the decisions and was responsible for all of the outcomes related to those decisions.
Why do you think it’s important to have a bookstore like St. Mark’s Bookshop in the neighborhood?
New bookstores give authors, poets, and writers a voice to be heard, not just in the community but in the world. Historically, people come from all over the world to the East Village to discover new talent that might not be heard or be able to breakthrough all the noise and clutter. My goal is to continue the legacy or best parts of St. Mark's Bookshop while adapting to today's environment.
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
St. Mark's Bookshop seeking buyers with an ownership interest
Report: Last stand for St. Mark's Bookshop
Report: Latest woe for St. Mark's Bookshop — possible eviction
[Updated] These are likely the last days for St. Mark's Bookshop