Thursday, October 27, 2011

Say No Back to Cooper

After more than 43,000 people signed the petition to Save St. Mark's Bookshop, after Michael Moore rallied the troops at a packed house and Salman Rushdie wrote to the school president to say that not supporting the bookstore would be an "unforgivable" and "irreversible cultural mistake," Cooper Union still said no.



They were asked to reduce the rent on the bookstore from $20,000 to $15,000 per month, and they said no. They said they are "broke."

Broke? Reportedly, Cooper Union has a $600 million endowment, $60 million of which goes to their annual budget. They just spent $150 million building a shiny new academic building at 7th St., and in 2008 they sold 51 Astor Place for close to $100 million to be developed into a corporate office tower. But they're broke. They own the land under the Chrysler Building (bringing in millions annually), but they're broke. The Wall Street Journal said they're doing great financially--better than most colleges.

What do they really want? Said bookstore co-owner Contant to PW, "We were told yesterday we wouldn't be able to afford a renewal on our lease." Cooper Union officials told the bookshop owners they want to rent the space for $40,000.

Who can afford to pay $40,000 a month? A bank can afford it. Starbucks can afford it. Marc Jacobs can afford it. Do we need more of those?



In my open letter to Cooper Union, I said I would launch a campaign to boycott any business that moves into the space at 31 Third Avenue should St. Mark's Books be forced to close. This tactic was used by Upper West Siders to save their local pharmacy, and it worked. It can work again. So I'm starting with a petition. Please sign it--then tweet it, Facebook it, blog it, share it with as many people as you can.

Click above or copy and paste this link:
http://signon.org/sign/boycott-coopers-future

Sign the petition if you love St. Mark's Books. Sign it if you just love books. Sign it if you're sick and tired of watching New York City's cultural touchstones go down the toilet day after day. Sign it if you miss the East Village before it became a frat house. Sign it if you hate having a bank on every corner and a chain store on every other. Sign it because you're mad as hell and you're not going to take it anymore!

And, yes, of course--go buy some books while you're at it.


Read more on this story:
Paris Review for St. Mark's
Michael Moore at St. Mark's
Columbia's Precedent
An Open Letter to Cooper Union
Buy A Book Weekend at St. Mark's
Xmas in September
St. Mark's Vestibule

37 comments:

Rob Hill said...

My pleasure to sign.

Mykola ( Mick) Dementiuk said...

I've donated my 5 or 6 copies of '100 Whores' to the St Marks Bookshop, I get no royalties, not a dime, but is anyone picking it up? Fat chance. Book buying days are coming to a close. I sell more e-books then I do 'real' books, I guess that's the future. Still, you can help St Marks making a few bucks or they will be shredded anyway. Very sad but this is what we've become...

Anonymous said...

Unfortunately all the NYU, Cooper Union students, and tourists around that area will NOT boycott whatever new comes in there.

Anonymous said...

$5000/month = $60000/year = 2 students that Cooper Union could no longer afford to educate. Why should they loose out on this rental income for this charity case bookshop. Cooper Union already supports a "charity" of providing a full tuition scholarship to each and every one of its students, and has been for 150+ years. Fuck off St. Marks, move to a cheaper space.

James Campbell Taylor said...

I'm sure the petition will gather 100 signatures in next to no time. Unfortunately I worry that this time we are the one percent.

BaHa said...

Signed, Facebooked, tweeted.

Marty Wombacher said...

I just signed the petition, thanks for putting it up, I hope it helps.

Goggla said...

Uh, broke? Cut staff salaries. Charge tuition - they don't even need to charge that much and it would still make a huge difference.

bowery boy said...

There's got to be a better place in the area that's cheaper. screw Cooper!

Caleo said...

Apparently Anon.10:48 didn't read Jeremiah's post.
Cooper Union is not only far from broke, they have more than enough funds to cover the cost of the 2 students you lamely theorize would lose out on an education if St. Marks is given a rent reduction.
Learn how to read, and then learn some basic math skills before telling St. Marks to Fuck off.
Or you could follow your own advice and do what you want St. Marks to do.

Anonymous said...

"Uh, broke? Cut staff salaries. Charge tuition - they don't even need to charge that much and it would still make a huge difference."

REALLY? Pay professors less? Charge tuition to an institution that has been there long before the bookshop?

Comments like these show how misguided and selfish this whole petition is. MOVE THE STORE. ORGANIZE A PETITION TO HELP THEM MOVE EVERYTHING OVER. CONTINUE BUYING BOOKS. It is not going to last. This is not how the world works. You want a handout for everything.

Randy said...

A huge operation like Border's just went out of business. Barnes and Noble is having problems too. So Cooper Union is supposed to feel bad for a guy in a declining business.

No matter what his rent is, it will be hard for him to pay it every month. The people that worked there were arrogant little dweebs anyway.

Brendan said...

Jeremiah,

You can't evaluate whether Cooper Union is "broke" without actually looking at its books in detail. I haven't done this either, so of course maybe they are full of shit. But the fact that their annual revenue doesn't tell us anything. It's a big organization. It could still be broke. The WSJ article you link is from 2009, so it's pretty useless.

If they're hoping to charge $40,000 in rent instead of $15,000, that's an extra $300,000 per year. Like you, I have a hard time believing that $300,000 per year could be make or break for an institution as large as Cooper Union. But again, I haven't looked at their books; maybe they are really struggling.

I'd like to hear you respond to the multiple commenters who've pointed out that Cooper Union educates all of its students for free. This has to weigh pretty heavily in its favor, but you don't seem to be weighing it at all. By any reasonable measure, providing free education is a much greater public service than providing preferential rent to a bookstore. Certainly Goggla's view, that it would actually be better to charge tuition or to cut wages than to force the bookstore out, is almost unbelievably warped.

I was really surprised see your earlier post singling out Columbia, an extremely expensive school that overwhelmingly serves the very rich, as some kind of civic model because it has chosen to subsidize Labyrinth/Book Culture. Columbia has not treated its neighborhood terribly well, to put it mildly, but the end result looks like an attractive academic neighborhood and it has its share of low-key independent businesses. I think the way you've written about Cooper Union v. Columbia highlights a tendency you have to privilege concerns of aesthetics over those of social and economic justice, and generally to privilege surface over substance.

Willow said...

Most of these commenters have a bad case of issing-may the oint-pay.

There's a difference between real value to a community and the world of phony, inflated Federal Reserve Notes.

We're at the point where "money" is virtually meaningless, yet most people can't make the shift in their minds.

Driving it off a cliff, they are.

More power to Jeremiah and those who understand real value in a world increasingly devoid of it.

onemorefoldedsunset said...

Will definitely sign. Mick, I've tried twice to get yr. book at St. Marks & both times staff couldn't find it for me. Where do they hide them in the store?

Jeremiah Moss said...

Brendan, you're right. they might be broke. but that Wall St. Journal article is pretty thorough and makes a strong case that they are thriving in this economy--unless they suddenly went broke in the past 2 years.

i understand they provide free tuition. that is a good thing, but it's often used to give them a free pass. look at all they've done to help hypergentrify the East Village. their original mandate, too, was to provide free education to the children of the working class. many of their students have families who could pay tuition--maybe there needs to be more balance there, so they don't have to rely on bringing in chain stores or building condo towers in the EV.

as for Columbia, in that one example of the bookstore, they did a good job.

i don't think Cooper is evil, and i don't think they're angelic. it's a mix. the St. Mark's decision is on the negative side of that mix.

Goggla said...

Thanks, Caleo - you stated it better than I did. My comment was not to do with the book store, but with the fact CU is claiming to be broke. If this is true, then that's a big deal and is very newsworthy.

Caleo said...

The bottom line is that Cooper has made a choice that says everything about what they represent at this point, whatever they're original mandate was.
And the students getting free tuition are hardly children of the working class, at least the several I've known. As Salman said, this is unforgivable.
Brendan, Cooper is not broke and has never had it's back against the wall. They own some of the choicest real estate in Manhattan, the ground that the Chrysler building sits on being a prime example.
The question is now whether or not St. Marks will move to a new location.
There are definitely commercial spaces available in the EV for less than 15,000. I know there are spaces available for 10,000. It would be a tighter fit, like the old store, but I think the original space was cozier and felt warmer than the present location.
This does not have to be the end, but someone needs to find out if the owners have it in them to move.
I hope they do.

Anonymous said...

I've been her for 15 years and it's so sad to see the neighborhood go to the highest bidders, always banks (how many god-damned banks do we need), always huge corporations. I'm with you guys: I vow never to support anything that goes in that coveted spot. A book is timeless/universal/artistic. What's an electronic reader? Absolutely nothing without power. We needn't worry about the zombie apocalypse; it's already here and thriving. This situation makes me sick. Why is EVERYTHING about greed? It's not as if they were asking to stay there for free? They are only asking for a temporary 25 percent reduction! Christ, couldn't CU budge even a little?

Anonymous said...

Since we're raising the issue of surface over substance, whether it's Cooper Union, Columbia, NYU, and the like, I don't understand how universities can have 501(c)(3) tax exempt status as charitable organizations while simultaneously taking on the role of landlords owning prime real estate. It's as if too big to fail not only applies to the govt and private sectors, it applies to the so-called not-for-profit sector as well.

The unanswered question remains as to whether or not there are policies in NYC that actually make it possible for small local businesses to survive among the giants without having to charge their patrons a fortune to do so. The neighborhood loses if businesses that connected residents to their community disappear and the only affordable choices left are chain stores. I hope there’s a happy ending somewhere in the EV for St Mark’s Bookshop.

Shawn Chittle said...

Just signed and sent to everyone I know.

SHAME SHAME SHAME on Cooper Union!

Brendan said...

I don't think the problem is with the fact that universities can be big landlords while also having 501c status (see also: Catholic Church), but with the corporatization of universities over the last couple decades. That is a whole other subject.

I guess the point I was making about Labyrinth in Morningside and surface vs. substance was that Labyrinth is a part of Columbia's systematic transformation of its neighborhood, which it has been undertaking since at least the 70s at the expense of its lower income residents. I believe when Jacques Barzun was president he even said something about ridding the area of "undesirables." I'm not inclined to award Columbia points for keeping a bookstore around that primarily serves its customers.

More broadly: I like independent bookstores too, but they are part of gentrification. Affordable working class neighborhoods do not generally have independent bookstores until people with liberal arts degrees start moving in and they are part of the whole process of neighborhood transformation that ultimately prices people out. Focusing on aesthetics obscures the underlying issues of economic justice.

Jeremiah Moss said...

Brendan, you bring up an important and sticky point about gentrification. namely, that it also serves middle-class, educated, and artistic populations. those of us who belong to those groups, myself included, don't like to think of ourselves as part of the problem.

still, what we're dealing with in NYC over the past decade is more than gentrification. it's gentrification on speed. it's, as Neil Smith has said, a systematic class remaking of our neighborhoods.

class is tough, right, because many of us with liberal arts educations come from working class and poor backgrounds, and never quite make it past a lower- to middle-class wage. where does that land us in all of it?

but if we can not get overly tangled in the complexities of all that, here we have a powerful and affluent organization that, through its real-estate dealings, is assisting mightily in the class remaking of the East Village. $40,000 a month can only be paid by banks and national chains. that's a problem worth fighting against.

Anonymous said...

The elite love the fact that books are disappearing. They love the disvaluing of intellect. Many important volumes won't make it to the e-format.

And E-books can be scrubbed of inconvenient facts

Anonymous said...

And PLEASE, people. I IMPLORE you....one way to fight hyper-gentrification is to fight the big banks. Encourage everyone you know to move their money out of them.
Not only is their service often sucky, they are bleeding away our democracy.

The Move Your Money Project website has a searchable database to locate a local credit union or smaller bank near you.

Anonymous said...

NOTE: Do not enter a long-term monetary agreement and then cry wolf later because it's too expensive for you. Get a SMALLER shop, one that for 2k int eh EV or LES. Cooper Union is not bad for giving a discount in rent. They set the terms, St. mark's agreed!
Get a clue everyone!

JAZ said...

Jeremiah,

I think we are on the same page re: gentrification in that this is not one of a community evolving of it's own accord. This one is forced, both in terms of agenda and timeframe. There is essentially nothing unforced about it, and whereas the gradual nature of an unforced evolution allows for the preservation of some of what is essential to a locale's character, this one is more akin to the 'system shock' of pulling a healthy tree out by it's roots, just because one day it may be in the way of a new condo.

I have a feeling that Mr. Smith's thoughts on the matter will be very insightful to read, and am looking forward to doing so. This is a subject that is not easy to always put into words, and would love to read someone eloquently state what so many of us feel.

Brendan said...

I don't see how St. Mark's has any bearing on the class remaking of the neighborhood. Cooper Union is able to charge $40,000 for the space precisely because the class remaking has already happened.

This probably sounds callous, but I came to New York in 2003. To me, the East Village was always a once arty, now rich neighborhood. The presence of absence of St. Mark's does not alter the salient fact that 1 bedroom apartments in the East Village go for $3,000+ now. In the end gentrification is about the rent. Everything else is a distraction.

Anonymous said...

so cooper union wants to make money off a space that they own? aren't the book shop owners also interested in making money? why is one party wrong and the other right? I sell books also, through amazon. can everyone buy one, I live here too ya know. also I'd like to post a petition so that my landlord will lower my lease. will everyone sign and buy a full priced book please? can michael moore bring his bullhorn to my apartment?

Jeremiah Moss said...

Brendan, by 2003 the process was already at warp speed.

JAZ, that idea of root shock is right on. in fact:

http://www.rootshock.org/

here's some of what Smith has to say:

http://vanishingnewyork.blogspot.com/2011/08/smith-on-gentrification.html

Brendan said...

Smith has a lot of interesting things to say. But I think the kind of uprooting you're talking about doesn't really happen until there's already a pretty high degree of "normal," organic gentrification. They're not building those condo towers in Brownsville, you know? They didn't develop the Williamsburg waterfront until the neighborhood was already gentrified and pricey, without the help of any big development projects. I'd agree that the interval between the onset of gentrification and the condo-and-boutique hyperdrive phase has gotten much shorter. But I think that was brought about to a large extent by the real estate bubble.

For a number of reasons, I actually think we will see the gentrification of the city stop and partly reverse itself in the next 5-10 years and a new equilibrium will emerge. But maybe I'm being overly optimistic.

nygrump said...

Cooper could be under orders to take them out, the books they sell certainly do not support the fascist agenda of the elites. And it is fascism in the classic Italian model. Until people wake the hell up and admit this - that this is our enemy, traitors who hate our Constitution - we're effed. another friggin tapas bar on the way...

Claribel said...

Hi Brendan, it’s amazing that you should mention Brownsville because it was the focus of a discussion on preserving public housing through revitalization at the recent Municipal Art Society summit:

http://www.livestream.com/masnycsummit2011/video?clipId=pla_2e421cd8-f3a6-4101-a16d-98eeb338c85d&utm_source=lslibrary&utm_medium=ui-thumb

So who knows? We may yet see those condo towers in Brownsville. Gentrification is being incorporated into public policy now with the hope of producing positive results.

I agree with you on the corporatization of universities (and I’ll add mega churches, since you kind of went there http://www.businessweek.com/magazine/content/05_21/b3934001_mz001.htm). That was what I was alluding to when I questioned the 501c3 status. However, I just don’t agree that it’s a different subject altogether. If a university behaves more like a big corporation today, then it is yet another goliath aided by govt (through fed tax exemption, anyway) with whom a small business must also contend. Moral hazard comes up with the private sector when you have the big banks taking more risks knowing that the govt will bail them out. If a not-for-profit institution can grow reaping the benefits of for-profit (landlord) and nonprofit (educational institution) status, then let’s say hypothetically, if they mismanage their finances, do they suffer the same consequences that a small business does? Universities have the option to wear their benevolent hat as charitable organization by beefing up their fundraising, or wearing their for-profit hat by raising rents when it’s attractive to do so. Of course I don’t expect agreement, but somewhere in there it’s a nice arrangement that smells like moral hazard to me.

All institutions big and small are hurting right now. The big just happen to get more help than the small, in my view. This is about bricks and mortar small businesses getting shafted in NYC. I’d like to believe it’s a level playing field for them to be able to compete, but for a host of reasons I just can’t. The petitions demonstrated that St Marks Bookshop adds a different kind of value to the local and greater community. (Anon @ 2:00pm, if you inspire the same amount of goodwill among your customers, then by all means go for it and get your own petition started too!) It’s unfortunate that Cooper Union just doesn’t give a crap.

Anonymous said...

BUY A BOOK. This should be the argument. If the 45,000 people who signed the petition bought one book and supported St. Mark's Bookshop that way, rather than sign a trivial online petition, the store would be fine. We are all suffering in this economy, including the Cooper Union. We need to save the East Village.

Brendan said...

Thanks for that link, Claribel.

Easy to forget, while focusing on Manhattan and the northwest corner of Brooklyn, that much of NYC faces an entirely different set of problems.

Anonymous said...

cooper could have saved money by not building that art building monstrosity which replaced the much more attractive old structure. also, it could save much money by denying some future students their free tuition. why? can you think of anybody who came out of cooper and did anything worthwhile?

Anonymous said...

Everyone here is so OFF TOPIC!
Who cares if cooper union could have saved money by not building that monstrosity? It's their money and they can spend it as they wish. If you don't like the building don't look at it.
Why does everyone think they are so greedy? Business is in business to MAKE MONEY. St. Marks Bookshop wants to make money.
Does that make them greedy??

You want to bookstore to stay open-BUY A BOOK and stop bitching!!