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St. Mark's Bookshop Fans Serenade New Cooper Union President

By Patrick Hedlund | October 18, 2011 3:59pm

COOPER SQUARE — Advocates pushing to save the St. Mark’s Bookshop greeted the Cooper Union’s new president at his inauguration Tuesday with a performance pleading for the college to lower the beleaguered store’s rent.

The demonstrators chose the formal inauguration procession to serenade incoming president Jamshed Bharucha over the Cooper Union’s ongoing negotiations with the bookstore over a requested rent reduction to prevent the possible closure of the longtime shop.

“For the past hour we have been singing our hearts out to ask the president to do the right thing,” said longtime literary agent Frances Goldin, 87, co-founder of the Cooper Square Committee, which has led the charge to save the bookstore.

The St. Mark's Bookshop on Third Avenue and Stuyvesant Street is facing closure
The St. Mark's Bookshop on Third Avenue and Stuyvesant Street is facing closure
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Flickr/Sarmale / O.

She and handful of singers, joined by a local violinist, belted out a self-styled song to the tune of “Home on the Range” as the procession moved through Cooper Square.

“Long life to St. Mark’s, it will not be fed to the sharks,” they sang. “And if that’s your intent, you will most likely earn high marks.”

The bookseller, which originally opened on St. Mark’s Place in 1977 before moving to the corner of Third Avenue and Stuyvesant Street, claims it can’t continue paying market rent for its space and needs a $5,000 monthly reduction from its current $20,000 rent to stay afloat.

During the performance Tuesday, other advocates for the bookstore handed out fliers to students and guests asking them to support the cause.

"It's getting such positive responses, even from people here [at the inauguration],” said Joyce Ravitz, president of the Cooper Square Committee, who started a petition to save the shop that has garnered more than 43,000 signatures since going online early last month.

"A guy who graduated in '41, he knew about it and loved it."

The demonstrators sought the instrumental accompaniment after learning Bharucha himself is an accomplished violinist. 

"I used to go [to the St. Mark’s Bookshop] all the time when I was a kid," said lifelong East Villager Robyn Creswell, 34, who played the violin as the group sang. "It's one of the great neighborhood bookstores in the city and one of the only ones left."

St. Mark’s Bookshop co-owner Bob Contant said Tuesday from his store that he expects an answer from the college by the end of the month after meeting with representatives last month.

“Our hope is that the support of the community will influence their decision,” he said, noting that the school has not given them an exact date for its response.

Goldin added that the momentum behind the effort to save the store would be enough to get the Cooper Union to lower the rent.

“We’ve got everybody in the city on our side — legislators, the borough president,” she explained. “We’re asking [Bharucha] to do the right thing. And what’s more, we’re going to win. We’ve lost too much of the Lower East Side.”