Thursday, November 3, 2011

St. Mark's Success

Congratulations to St. Mark's Books and to Cooper Union for reaching an agreement that will help keep this bookstore in place in our neighborhood, hopefully for a long time to come.

This morning the New York Times reported that a deal has been reached: "the college agreed to reduce the store’s rent to about $17,500 a month from about $20,000 for one year, and to forgive $7,000 in debt. The school will also provide student help with revising the store’s business plan."

It's been a tough row to hoe. So how did we get here? We first got an inkling of the shop's financial troubles in June when these signs went up all over the store:

The bookstore confirmed they were having a tough time and throughout the summer many of us supported the shop by buying books.

By September, everyone knew the shop was in big trouble with their landlord, Cooper Union. We heard from the owners, and via news sources, that Cooper was not being sympathetic to their request for a rent reduction. The Cooper Square Committee started a petition that eventually garnered 44,000 signatures. I published an Open Letter to Cooper Union. We spent a weekend in a book-buying frenzy that boosted the shop's sales by 30%, creating a Christmas in September. The neighborhood, and New Yorkers all over the country, had truly rallied behind the shop.

The story was all over the news. Many well-known authors signed the petition, Salman Rushdie wrote a scathing letter to Cooper Union, and Michael Moore showed up at the store to sign books and lend his support.

We heard then that Cooper's final decision would be put off until the end of October. We waited. One week ago, Cooper Union said no, turning down the bookstore's request. They told the bookstore owners that they were broke, would rather have a tenant paying twice the rent--$40,000 a month--and that the shop would not be able to afford a lease renewal. I launched a petition to boycott the inevitable bank or Starbucks that would move in should the bookstore move out--hundreds of you signed it, letting Cooper know you would not support another bank or chain store in that space.

Some word from Cooper Union said the decision was not final, although the bookstore owners confirmed to me that they'd been told it was definitely the end of the line. A done deal.

Finally, in a Hail Mary pass yesterday at Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer's office, the two sides at last came to an agreement.

Congratulations and thank you to everyone who supported this cause. To everyone who signed the petitions. To everyone who tweeted, linked, and commented on the story. To all the bloggers who passionately posted about it. To all the authors, politicians, and academics who lent their weight to the issue. Thank you to Scott Stringer for mediating the deal and to President Jamshed Bharucha for doing the right thing. Thanks to everyone who bought books during this time--and will keep buying books at St. Mark's. I am heartened to know there are still so many people who give a shit about real books and real bookstores, and so grateful that you all fought hard to keep this one alive.

Now we have to make a pledge to keep it thriving. Buy your books from St. Mark's. Buy them in person or buy them online. Attend their literary events. Encourage them. Support them. Let's never have to fight this battle again.

P.S. If you're around today at 11:00, Grieve has news of a formal announcement at the bookstore.


Anonymous said...

On the other hand, did you notice Cooper Union tuition will no longer be free, and may go up to $40,000 /yr. for some students because of the generally poor state of Cooper Union's current finances (which, one assumes, had been mitigated somewhat by the bookstore rent)? See

Looks like there's a cost to be paid either way -- either for a good neighborhood bookstore's losing its rental space or for a student's free access to some of the best higher art/architecture/engineering education available in the city.

Just wondering how long you want to hammer Cooper Union alone, without giving more context to their interests (which one might argue are more "altruistic" than the commercially-established St. Marks Bookstore).

Katrink said...

Fantastic. Now if we can only do the same for Ruby's and Paul's Daughter on the boardwalk... Thanks for keeping the fire to Cooper Union's feet!

Anonymous said...

And thank you Jeremiah Moss for keeping everyone informed about what was going on and for all of your efforts to save this bookstore!--CC

Anonymous said...

maybe now you can start using your tremendous influence to help Cooper Union, another cultural institution, stay tuition free.

but somehow i doubt it. it's not somewhere you can buy things and there's no easily vilified "big box store" to blame.

Jeremiah Moss said...

maybe Cooper will figure out a way to squeeze some pennies from their hundreds of millions of dollars in assets and investments.

Anonymous said...

i think it's pretty clear that despite their "hundreds of millions of dollars in assets and investments," that their operating costs are still using up more than their taking in.

but i'm assuming the loss of a tuition-free educational and cultural institution that helped educate Milton Glaser, Alex Katz, and others only really becomes a loss when NYU or Duane Reade takes over. then i'm sure the too-late handwringing will commence.

Ken Mac said...

Great. Now let me head over there and buy some books.

Anonymous said...

If anyone wants to get really concerned look at the Cooper Union website and the list of trustees with bios. I would love a complete audit of how many of them have their hands in the cookie jar.

I would be willing to wager the compensation being paid to the top 9 employees of Cooper is but a drop in the bucket to what these people are skimming off. There is a reason Cooper is acting like bully developers.

The foxes are guarding the henhouse.

Claribel said...

This is incredible news and a dramatic reminder of what it means to be a part of one’s neighborhood, whether you’re an individual who’s just arrived or a long-established, small or big, landmark institution, which continues to have a profound impact on the community or leave an important legacy to the community at large. It’s a symbiotic relationship to say the least.

Cooper Union didn’t have to negotiate with St Mark’s Bookshop at all, and the bookshop has been in financial troubles before, but it’s easier to digest when we paint pictures in broad strokes and look for enemies where there might be friends. I hope the residents of the EV don’t just stand behind St Mark’s Bookshop, but behind the students and staff of Cooper Union as well. The mission of Cooper Union, as set forth by Peter Cooper, really does uphold the ideal of meritocracy. I wish the new leadership all the best in its efforts to steer the institution back on course.

Jason Liu said...

@Jeremiah Moss (10:52AM):

What, you mean like charging fair market rent for properties it owns?

Caleo said...

To all of the Anon.'s trying to create a pity party for Cooper- These financial problems are their doing and their's alone.
They blew their load on a useless glass and steel monstrosity, while lavishly paying the top staff half a million dollar salaries.
If half million dollar salaries for the top level management at a non profit doesn't set off your alarm bell, then nothing ever will.
Ultimately, this issue was/is bigger than the bookshop, but shutting down St.Marks would not have saved an institution being run this poorly.
Apparently the management started to see Cooper as an endless pot of gold, and not the non profit educational institution it actually was/is meant to be.

Mykola ( Mick) Dementiuk said...

Still, $17,500 per month is a load of money, as is $15, 000. Are they already making a mint in selling books? Anyway, head on over to St Marks for my "100 Whores," the copies there have been donated to them, all royalties are theirs. So pick it up, I get nothing, zilch.

Claribel said...

Anonymous at 10:41am, Jeremiah stood up for a business that he really cares about and he used his own blog space to do it. I think the outcome should be an inspiration to get off our own asses and be more involved and supportive of the institutions and issues that we personally care about, instead of bitching about the causes other people pursue.

ShatteredMonocle said...

Yes yes, this blog and the greedy book store are to blame for the tuition situation at Cooper. When will these ubiquitous mom & pop stores stop ruining the very fabric of our city?

Marty Wombacher said...

"Now we have to make a pledge to keep it thriving. Buy your books from St. Mark's. Buy them in person or buy them online."

Agreed! I plan to try to buy a book a week either in store or online and hope everyone else will try and do the same.

Goggla said...

Way to go, Jeremiah! Without your concern, this would not have received the publicity it did. And, I have to wonder if we'd know anything about Cooper Union's financial problems at this point if there hadn't been so much attention paid to St Mark's Books.

We should take this opportunity to now focus on CU and how to enable its students to continue benefiting from a tuition-free education. You have the ear of the community.

glamma said...

Jeremiah thank you so much for all you have done to make this happen. Somehow I don't think it would have been saved without your efforts. BRAVO!

Anonymous said...

@ Jeremiah

Thanks for the news and your efforts - the pressure you helped bring to bear undoubtedly influenced this good outcome.

@ anons & Jason Liu

All told Cooper Union is losing out on 37k had they renewed the lease at the current rate and not forgiven the 7k debt. Even if they kicked out St. Marks bookshop and were able to land a tenant at 40k rent, they'd be losing out 240k for the next calendar year. To make that up, all Cooper Union would need to do is slash a single overcompensated administrator's salary in half, as there are a few making over half a million a year (at a non-profit whose mission is to provide free education and is threatening to start charging tuition). And as I've noted before, without Cooper Union providing a full copy of their financial books to the public, or at least to an independent 3rd party auditor, are you really going to trust a titular non-profit that acts very much like a typical for-profit when it claims budget woes? How do you know it's not a projected budget shortfall for a single fiscal year followed by a projected surplus for years after based upon when payments are going to be made to the institution by tenants of its massive landholdings?

Very glad that Cooper Union made a step in the right direction, but methinks these anons have an ulterior agenda.

Jeremiah Moss said...

thanks guys. most of the time, i feel like these fights are futile, so it makes me really happy to be able to help out a business that i love so much. we all had a hand in saving this bookstore--and we all have a responsibility to help keep it alive.

i hope that everyone who bought a book, signed the petition, and spread the word is feeling inspired today. it is possible to band together and make the changes we want to see.

JAZ said...

Great job - so glad that everyone stepped up and let it be known that losing the Bookshop is not an option - between this and some potentially good news on Coney Island, I'm hoping this is just the tip of the iceberg towards reclaiming some of our city - and our sanity.

Grand St. said...

Great piece about Ann Patchett on the front page of today's Times:
"I have no interest in retail; I have no interest in opening a bookstore." "....but I also have no interest in living in a city without a bookstore."

Jeremiah Moss said...

love that quote. makes me wonder what would happen if more authors opened bookstores.