18 September 2006

No City for Wise Men

We're on code red of the cultural threat color systemhere in New York City. The New York Sun reported today that the one and only Gotham Book Mart has closed its doors, posting a sign that says "The landlord has legal possession of these premises pursuant to warrant of Civil Court." Translation: the Mart is overdue in its rent and the landlord WANTS HIS MONEY!!!

It feels like the mid-90s, doesn't it? Remember a decade ago, when the toppling of classic, independent book stores in New York rose to crisis level. Shakespeare and Co., Books & Co., The New York City Book Store, Scribner's, Coliseum—they were dropping like flies. Folks wringed their hands and nobody did a damn thing about it. (Coliseum eventually reopened on 42nd Street.) The ink-letting seemed to have been stemmed in recent years, possibly because Barnes & Noble couldn't figure out where else to open a store in Manhattan.

Through it all Gotham Book Mart stood firm on W. 47th Street between Sixth and Fifth Avenues, though it, too, went through a rent scare of its own and eventually had to move to a new space in 16 E. 46th Street (where the former H.P. Kraus antiquarian bookstore once lived.) It was hard to imagine Gotham going. More than any other New York book emporium, the 86-year-old place is drenched in literary history, a haunt of such writers as Auden, Gorey, Updike and Miller. The photographs on the wall told it all. It deserved landmark status, but, of course, good old capitalistic America doesn't hand out honors like that to mere stores. If they can't make it, then a Sephora can. Law of the jungle.

In a perfect world, landlords would be honored to have such a tenant, and charge them nothing just for the boasting rights of strutting around town saying a New York cultural treasure was housed in one of their buildings. But in the real world, it's not surprising a landlord would fail to be impressed by the Book Mart. They can't read, after all. Except for leases, and those they have their lawyers read to them.

My guess is that the store never survived the move and regulars didn't know where to find it. Many habitues complained for years that it should abandon its place on 47th, where it was the only business not directly involved in or catering to the Diamond District business. I liked it there. It was such an anomoly, so weirdly situated, like finding a shoe repair shop on Madison Avenue. A very New York bit of surrealism.

Its digs on 46th Street were fine, but possessed of much less dingy, tumbledown charm. The Sun article says the owner Andreas Brown is "in negotiations." Somebody step up and pay this guy's bill, please!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Now Coliseum is bankrupt and closing. Tower Records is already history.