St. Mark's Bookshop Celebrates Survival

By Serena Solomon on December 2, 2011 8:11am 

A St Mark's Bookshop customer, Francoise Letondeux, browses the bookshelves on Thursday night.
A St Mark's Bookshop customer, Francoise Letondeux, browses the bookshelves on Thursday night.
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DNAinfo/Serena Solomon

EAST VILLAGE — The struggling St. Mark’s Bookshop held a party Thursday night to celebrate victory in a fight for survival.

The famed store reached agreement with its landlord, Cooper Union, that reduced its rent and cleared debt — allowing it to stay open.

Dignitaries, including Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer and State Senator Daniel Squadron, attended the event that was organized by the activist organization the Cooper Square Committee.

The bookshop, located on East 9th Street and Third Avenue, negotiated a $2,500 rent reduction from $20,000 and had a debt of $7,500 cleared by the university, which is also facing financial difficulties.

“Every time we save a local bookstore we save a local community,” said Stringer, who assisted the bookstore with its rent negotiations. He reminded party guests to buy their Christmas presents at the store, himself purchasing the autobiography “Steve Jobs.”

“We have lost a lot of [bookstores],” said Stringer, explaining why he fought so hard for St. Mark’s when there are many others stores in a similar predicament with high rents.

He gave the example of Shakespeare and Company, which was forced to shut its Upper West Side location in 1996.

President of the Cooper Square Committee, Joyce Ravitz, gathered 44,000 signatures to stop the East Village store from shutting, a salvation that came in the last hour at the beginning of November. Powerhouse literary figures, such as Salman Rushdie and filmmaker Michael Moore also gave their support.

“I always think people don’t get thanked enough,” said Ravitz, who had gathered wine, cheese and fruit for guests to snack on while they browsed the book shelves.

“Especially when we have a victory, we need to celebrate.”

After successfully advocating for the bookstore, Ravitz is turning her full attention to supporting the students at Cooper Union. The tuition-free university is considering charging students for the first time in its 152-year-history.

Ravitz and others from the committee met with the university's president Jamshed Bharucha last Monday to talk about the tuition proposal. Among other ideas, Bharucha discussed making tuition free only to those with no means to pay for an education, according to Ravitz.

“He made a very convincing argument,” she said.

Susan Conheim, 76, signed the petition to support the bookstore and came to the party. All 40,000 signatories from around the world were invited to the celebration.

Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer and Joyce Ravitz at St. Mark's Bookshop on Thursday night.
Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer and Joyce Ravitz at St. Mark's Bookshop on Thursday night.
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DNAinfo/Serena Solomon

Conheim said she did not understand how, as an educational institution, the Cooper Union could be so unsupportive of another educational institution, an independent bookstore. The community’s bookstores needed protection, she said.

“There is almost nothing like this anymore," she said.

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