Dear Cooper Union:
Today you are meeting with the owners of the St. Mark's Bookshop to discuss a rent reduction that would keep this invaluable business afloat. So far, the owners say, you have not been "particularly sympathetic" to the situation.
You weren't particularly sympathetic in 1994 when you leased a gas station to the Bowery Bar, helping to set in motion a tsunami of hyper-gentrification. Bowery Bar's neighbor (gone now) put a lighted sign in his window saying, "Cooper Union: How could you do this to us?" More protesters responded, "Don't Party on the Poor." But the party raged on.
You weren't particularly sympathetic in 2000 when you leased the Astor Place parking lot for a luxury hotel that turned into a luxury condo tower--one that opened the door for more massive development in the East Village. One of your own faculty members at the time told the Observer, "[Peter Cooper] would die again if he knew what was going on. For him to find out what his legacy turned out to be, he would be appalled. He was never one for pure mercenary gain. It’s all about money, money, money."
You weren't particularly sympathetic in 2001 when you tried to demap Taras Shevchenko Place and the Ukrainians of the East Village fought back.
You weren't particularly sympathetic in 2004 when you painted over a popular 9/11 mural to make space for advertising on 35 Cooper Square. That little building was later sold to developers and demolished against more protests.
You aren't being particularly sympathetic now in your current plans to turn Astor Place into a corporate office park. The neighborhood has been fighting those plans for the past decade to no avail.
Even though, as we understand it, you make a mint on the Chrysler Building, which stands on your property and reportedly costs the city $8 million every year, you keep finding ways to make more money from the East Village. As New York Magazine put it, you have "helped to corporatize a once raffish and still artistically fertile area." People are angry. We have lost too much. We cannot lose one of the best bookstores in the city--a place that fuels the soul in an increasingly soulless neighborhood.
As of this writing, more than 24,000 people have signed the petition to save St. Mark's Bookshop. Will you be sympathetic to that enormous outcry? I hope you will surprise us and grant their request, but your track record does not inspire optimism.
A few years ago, I was inspired by a story in the documentary film Twilight Becomes Night. A group of Upper West Siders saved their local pharmacy from eviction by calling the bank that planned to move into the space, and telling them, "We will not use your services." The bank backed off. Suba Pharmacy still stands. So here's an idea: If St. Mark's Books is forced to close due to unyielding rent, whatever business moves into their space at 31 Third Avenue will be boycotted and protested.
I'm sorry, but I can't be more sympathetic.
Vanishing New York