Friday, February 15, 2019

Amazon Folds

Today I wrote an essay for The Atlantic on the folding of Amazon in New York City and the activists' celebration party last night in Queens.

It begins, "A piñata hangs from a tree on Diversity Plaza in Jackson Heights, Queens. It is decorated with the face of Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos and by the end of Thursday night it will meet the fate of all piñatas."

Read the rest here

Friday, February 8, 2019

Left Bank Books


Some good news for a change. Left Bank Books is returning to brick-and-mortar. On their website, they announce:

"We’re ecstatic to announce the upcoming re-opening of Left Bank Books in a new Greenwich Village location at 41 Perry Street."

Left Bank shuttered in 2016 after struggling in its second location. Prior to that, the shop had been on West 4th Street for many years and was kicked out by a rent hike--their neighbor, Lee's Laundry, was also pushed out. The double space became a cafe and then that shuttered. Something else moved in and I think that might have shuttered, too. I don't know what's there now. As we see over and over, stable, long-term small businesses get pushed out and then the space becomes unstable, filling and emptying again and again.

It's not often that a lost bookstore returns. Let's hope Left Bank has found a decent landlord and newfound stability. They'll be on Perry Street between West 4th Street and Waverly Place. Doors open in March.

They write, "The bookshop will showcase our eclectic selection from the 20th and 21st centuries (and occasionally earlier), encompassing literature, art, film, photography, fashion, architecture, design, music, theater, dance, children’s books, and New York City. In time, we expect to host events and exhibits, becoming a destination for seasoned collectors, emerging enthusiasts, and curious newcomers the world over."

(h/t Alex in NYC)

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

St. Mark's Comics


It's yet another nail in the coffin for the very dead St. Mark's Place. After 36 years, St. Mark's Comics will be closing at the end of February.

They announced the news today on Twitter and explained why on their Facebook page:

"There are lots of obstacles to running a retail storefront in NYC; too many of them at once to fight, and after 36 pretty intense years, not enough left to fight them."

What remains?

The Grassroots Tavern, shuttered last year after 42 years, sits empty. Trash & Vaudeville was kicked off the street. So was St. Mark's Bookshop--and then again. Kim's Video got the boot. A lot of record shops were lost. Dojo's is long gone.

The comic book shop was one of the last of its kind, a dusty, idiosyncratic leftover from the old street, when it was still part and production of the counterculture. But there is little counterculture left in the broken East Village. A century of rebelliousness down the drain.

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.

Monday, January 14, 2019

Westsider Books


Located at 81st and Broadway, the great Westsider Books has just announced they will be closing. Another heartbreak for New York City bibliophiles.

Owned by Dorian Thornley and Bryan Gonzalez, the shop opened in the 1980s. They call it "the last used bookstore on the Upper West Side." But the neighborhood keeps on changing, filling up with more money and more chains.

“It’s all different now," Gonzalez told Narratively a few years ago. "There’s more money here, and the people have changed, and so have their tastes. Not that long ago, the city gave you a sense of belonging to something unique, exciting, cosmopolitan. Now what you find here, I can find in a Jersey mall."

Westsider is a wonderful, authentically New York shop, packed from floor to ceiling with books. When I was taking classes in the neighborhood, I would stop in every week and always walked out with a book in hand. Recently, Westsider had a cameo in the excellent and very New York nostalgic film "Can You Ever Forgive Me."

via Medium

The employee I spoke with doesn't know the reason for the closure, but "I can guess," he said. I can guess, too.

He told me they'll be open until February. Until then, everything is 30% off.