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Beloved Indie Bookstore Bookberries Bites the Dust on Upper East Side

By Amy Zimmer | July 21, 2011 6:19pm
Clarence George (r) and George Omenitsch in their last week before Bookberries, at 983 Lexington Ave., closes.
Clarence George (r) and George Omenitsch in their last week before Bookberries, at 983 Lexington Ave., closes.
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DNAinfo/Amy Zimmer

UPPER EAST SIDE — A customer held up a book, "Crime of the Century," asking the two men behind the counter at Bookberries if they had read it.

"No, so you'll have to report back," said Clarence George, manager of the independent book store on the corner of East 71st Street and Lexington Avenue.

"Where will I report?" the man asked.

Bookberries is closing on July 27 after 15 years of providing the neighborhood with a wide array of children's books and reading material for adult bibliophiles, who like to buy from the knowledgeable staff.

"The main reason we're closing was because of the rent increase," said George, who has worked at the bookstore for 12 years. He heard the rent was going to be tripled.

"It couldn't be done any longer. Business hasn't been good the past few years. Since 2009, I've been expecting it," George said of the closure. "That was a terrible year, and it's been deteriorating ever since."

"It's probably the economy, a general lessening of purchasing," he continued. "A big factor was Amazon and e-books. ... I don't think they'll be publishing books on paper in the next few years."

He believes all books will go digital in less than 20 years.  

"I was heartsick when I heard," said customer Elsa Brule, 63. "I will definitely miss it. The personal attention you can have in here. We're losing character and personality… the recommendations, the smell and touch and feel of books."

"And the good-looking staff," George joked.

Brule, who is a benefactor for libraries, was concerned about how e-books have been affecting Bookberries. She bought nearly a dozen kids books to donate to libraries and said she'd be back for more before the closure.

"While we're going through this transition [with e-books], the little ones still have to learn how to read," she said. "We still have to get them books."

"I'm so sad you're going out of business," Loren Cunning, 29, told George. "I always come here to buy children's books. I like it better than going to Barnes & Noble."

The bookstore never hosted readings or other events — which some indie bookstores have done to build strong followings — but it still had loyal fans, like the man who stopped off Thursday morning with a bottle of Veuve Clicquot champagne for the staff.

George and his assistant manager, George Omenitsch, didn't know what their next moves would be. Omenitsch is considering going back to school for computers. George said he had worked in the PR world before and might return.

"I look at this store as a huge coffee table," said Jeff Feinstein, 62, who was window-shopping on Thursday morning. "I've gone inside, but I haven't bought anything," he admitted.

Even so, he still lamented the store's closure.

"It's a sign of the times," said Feinstein, who taught AP English in Bergen County, NJ. 

He had recently assigned his students a paper on "Hamlet," requiring them to do research in a library instead of using the Internet. But his school admonished him after parents called to complain.

"I wanted them to pick a book up, smell a book, just get lost in the pages," Feinstein said. "Parents said, 'When will my son have time to go to a library?'"