Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Westsider Books Saved

Last week I reported that Westsider Books was closing. This week we heard the good news that it has been saved. The following is a guest post by Janice Isaac:

Westsider Books is a wonderful used bookstore stuffed with books in every possible space. They could no longer afford to stay open, and locals were devastated. Apparently, non-locals were as well.

Bobby Panza, a West Sider who doesn’t even know the owners personally, but who knows the store and values its uniqueness, started a GoFundMe to help keep this treasure alive. He’d been inspired by owner Dorian Thornley commenting about being able to stay open if they had $50,000 from crowdfunding. Thornly says he was “amazed and shocked...quite taken aback” when he saw, on Facebook, the campaign to save the store. The GoFundMe quickly reached its goal (thanks to donations ranging from very modest to several in the thousands), and Westsider Books will stay. Locals are overjoyed.

I live in the neighborhood and have loved walking around the store, searching for treasures. I sometimes touch the bindings as I shop, as each book seems to have its own history. I once brought my then six-year-old to pick out some children’s books for himself. Venturing up the stairs, he was excited to discover something he’d never seen before -- an actual typewriter. He was disappointed we couldn’t purchase it, but a gently used copy of The Secret Garden seemed to appease him.

When I went there this week to chat with Thornley, I felt steady blasts of cold air as customers arrived, coming in to browse the packed shelves. Some appeared to be tourists, lugging heavy backpacks. Some were obviously locals, and they congratulated Thornley on Westsider being able to remain. Sometimes the door would open, and people would just pop their heads in to express relief about the store’s future, and then they’d continue on their way up or down Broadway. Clearly, in an area filled with empty storefronts and chain stores, the locals are delighted to be able to keep some vestige of what once made walking the streets of the neighborhood special. Who doesn’t cherish those small, quirky, independently owned businesses, run by people who clearly love what they do?

When I asked him how he feels now that the campaign to keep the store open has reached, and even exceeded, its initial, seemingly unattainable goal (it’s at $51,876 as of this writing), he replied, “I’m amazed. I feel incredible."

Thornley and co-owner Bryan Gonzalez are hoping to stay in this location, selling books for as long as possible. Thornley’s plans for the money raised by devoted customers? “Well, I’m hoping we can carry on indefinitely. That’s what I’m telling the press. This money’s going to allow us to pay off the rent and buy some good books."

After speaking with him, I smiled as I glanced at the cover of Salinger’s Nine Stories, a personal favorite, taped to a bookshelf. Then I enjoyed a little browsing in a store that has graced the Upper West Side for 35 years, and hopefully will for many more.

Check out this video about saving the bookstore, by Evan Fairbanks and Christopher Ming Ryan:

Disappearing NYC: Saving Westsider Books from Wheelhouse Communications on Vimeo.


Unknown said...

As a former Upper west sider, it's nice to see locals finally standing up for someone- after the demise of neighborhood icons Big Nick,Cafe La Fortuna, Nikos among others.

However- this only forstalls the inevitable: used bookstores are no longer viable in today's manhattan. We can only look forward to another such fundraiser in a year or two.

Stephen Creagh Uys said...

Dear Jeremiah,

I randomly found your blog, and ordered your book. I hope I cry wistful, melancholy tears. There is no time left for anger. I am mostly grateful for the East Village that allowed me to grow up a caring,creative human.
We are early in the pre-production of an independent film, a tale that takes place on the day someone brought a cell phone to the neighborhood, or maybe it was the day the internet was turned on. If you send me an address, I will send you a copy of the source book.

We are striving to make a period piece that includes everything from the Chicken man, to Body Heat (the only after hours that I cannot find referenced anywhere.) As we get closer, I may ask you, at your leisure, to perhaps add your historians knowledge. While we are a medium budget indie outfit, we would obviously work something out. We cannot get it wrong. In addition to being a very decent story, it is also a love letter.

You can email me a mailing address. stephencreaghuys@gmail.com

Thank you for all the time you have dedicated to a great blog. I only ask one thing. Until I have letters of intent, the production is not being publicized. I ask you keep this confidence. When we lock the talent, and if you are willing, I would enjoy speaking.


Stephen Creagh Uys

PS: I do realize that this is a comment. If you choose to moderate and withhold publication, I would be delighted, conversely, if published, i invite anyone interested in the subject to email me. this is the only manner i could find to message Jeremiah.