Wednesday, July 2, 2014

St. Mark's Empty Windows

I have long dreaded this sight--the windows of St. Mark's Bookshop have been emptied of their books. They have left Astor Place.

While I'm happy to know the bookstore is surviving, moving to 3rd Street off Avenue A, I am not happy that it will no longer by there to greet me as it did for two decades. Through my whole New York life, those windows were my constant, my compass.

After a difficult day at work, after a class, coming from the 6 train or the N/R, walking home down 3rd Avenue in snow, in rain, covered in summer sweat, through the miserable crowds, I knew I could stop at those ample windows and look--and I knew that just looking at those books would bring me back to center. Gazing through the glass, taking in the titles, the authors, the covers, I could feel my blood pressure pleasantly descend, spreading a sense of calm through my body and mind. Those windows were a daily balm.

Standing there, I could imagine all there was to read and write. I could imagine that one day my own book would make it into those windows (that never happened). So much possibility! So many ideas!

What will greet me next in this space? A brainless bank, a soulless Starbucks, a fucking frozen yogurt emporium? Surely nothing that will be the medicine that was St. Mark's Bookshop off Astor Place.

Until that more dreadful day, they have left us with "A Final Sonnet" by Ted Berrigan. It begins with the line: "How strange to be gone in a minute!"

The long story:
St. Mark's Success
Michael Moore at St. Mark's
Buy A Book Weekend at St. Mark's
Xmas in September
St. Mark's Vestibule


Anonymous said...

When I arrived in NYC in the fall of '86 St. Marks Books was actually on St. Marks Place. I can't remember if it was the time they were on the north side of the street or the south side of the street, but I do remember being overwhelmed by the urban underground-ness of it all. It was all gritty intellectual and defined the experience of being in the East Village. The first book I remember flipping through there was Larry Clark's 'Tulsa'.

JM said...

I always thought of that location as 'the new' St. Mark's Books, having liked the old shop a lot better. The new place just never really grabbed seemed that the store lost something when it moved there. It will probably lose even more moving to an even smaller space now.

Barbara L. Hanson said...

I agree. Never cared for the new location; it always felt rather cold to me.

Anonymous said...

When I lived in NYC in the mid 1990s St. Mark's Books was at least a twice per week visit, absolutely loved the place. I lived on 9th Street and Third Ave so it was basically a short stone throw away. A piece of the East Village will never be the same without St. Mark's Books on that corner.

Drew Hunkins
Madison, WI

Anonymous said...

You maybe should have gone in, and bought a book instead of staring at them from the window. Maybe they would have stayed open.

Jeremiah Moss said...

Anon 11:49, if you really think I haven't spent thousands of dollars there over the years, you're a moron.

Anonymous said...

I wish I could have experienced your New York. What I moved into is vapid, soulless, and boring.

Mick Mykola Dementiuk said...

I spent years in all three book stores. The Beatniks, the Hippies, the Rock 'n Rollers, the Skinheads all were there on the street of St Marks. Now no more. I left NYC in 1998, it was dying back then. There's nothing there anymore, just meaningless memories.

Caleo said...

Echoing the first few comments, I remember when the bookshop was on the south side of St. Marks, and I much preferred that spot. It was a cozier, warmer space. Definitely embodied East Village intellectual culture, if there ever was such a thing. The new shop always felt underused and a bit sterile. In my opinion they should have never moved to that space. If they had stayed put, they probably would have avoided all the drama over the rent hike.
That being said, I still enjoyed many afternoons browsing and buying at the "new" shop. Probably a third of all the books I bought in the late 90's/early 00's were purchased there.
Wish them the best at the new location, but something about it won't be the same.

Anonymous said...

After Gotham Book Mart closed this has been my favorite book store in the city. I hope it remains so in it's new location, I am choosing to think optimistically. It's one of those bookstores where you can feel the wise minds behind the book selections and I believe it will be the same at the new spot. I live in Maryland now and I visit St Marks Bookshop almost every time I am in the city.

Anonymous said...

My first memories of St. Marks Books was the two story one on the North side of the street. I think my first purchase was "The Talented Mr. Ripley."

Anonymous said...

May I suggest you change your route home so you can look at the window of Strand? I know it's not the same - but it may be as good as possible in our current "bottom line takes all" economy.

onemorefoldedsunset said...

I'm sorry they had to move, but agree with others - loved the St. Marks store(s)more than their 9th location. Good luck with the new place - maybe a smaller store will be more viable & create a warmer atmosphere.
I know a lot of the independent bookstores in the city, but am sure there are many I have never visited. Is there any kind of up to date source list anywhere?

Anonymous said...

The old location(s) must have been amazing because the "new" one was my favorite bookstore since I wandered in after apartment hunting 10+ yrs ago. I can identify with Jeremiah. I would go there often to peruse the aisles and get re-inspired after a long day. To me was definitely not sterile.

John K said...

I went by this weekend, and they were gutting the old building on 3rd St., but installing the new shelves at the new location off Avenue A. I can't wait till they open. This bookstore was the very first to order and sell copies of my first book. I'll never forget that. I urge everyone who reads this blog to patronize the new shop, and urge others--New Yorkers and visitors--to do so too.

(BTW, there's another bookstore near the new location, Mast Books, which appears to be a high-end used and rare indy bookstore. A very frosty young salesperson was there when I went in, but since it was not a chain, I made a point of buying something there.)

rc said...

Thanks for this post, Jeremiah. When I first came to New York on my own, to visit a high school friend, St. Mark's Bookshop was already located at Third Avenue and 9th Street. I have loved that store ever since, and spent many hours (and dollars, whenever I could afford it) there. That corner will never be the same without it.

I also want to say that the new location has opened (today, July 20) after a few delays.

Brooklyn, NY