EAST VILLAGE — Nearly two years after relocating from its second home, St. Mark's Bookshop is in danger of being evicted from its new space after racking up more than $68,000 in back rent to the city, officials say.
St. Mark's Bookshop, which hoped to turn the page on its financial troubles when it moved to 136 E. Third St. inside the New York City Housing Authority’s First Houses a little more than a year ago, has been hauled into court by city officials asking it to pay up or leave its 1,325-square-foot space.
NYCHA, which sued the longtime neighborhood bookstore and initiated eviction proceedings last July, said the shop owes $68,361.70 as of this month — a combination of its monthly $6,180 rent, as well as an additional $68.94 in monthly water charges.
The legal action was first reported by Bedford + Bowery.
St. Marks Bookshop co-owner Bob Contant confirmed the lawsuit Thursday morning and said his attorney was working to get it dismissed because “there were a lot of problems with the way the notice was served.”
Although he acknowledged that the store had fallen behind on its monthly payments, Contant disputed the city's figures. He declined to say how much he and his business partner Terry McCoy owed the city.
“The city has one figure, we have another. We’re not on the same page,” he said. Contant also declined to say how much they paid in rent, but said it was “significantly less” than its previous location on Third Avenue and East Ninth Street.
The independent bookstore has fought to stay open since 2011, when the owners first asked their landlord at the shop's former Third Avenue location for a rent break. The owners won a rent reduction from their landlord, but still had difficulty covering costs so the store moved to its current location near Avenue A with the help of donations and a rare book auction.
However, the move was “undercapitalized,” Contant previously told DNAinfo New York, making it difficult to properly stock the store and generate enough income from sales.
“We really need a significant amount of money to stock the store so the sales will allow us to stay here,” he told DNAinfo by phone Thursday afternoon.
St. Mark’s Bookshop put out a call for investors in August 2015, but started a GoFundMe campaign before the end of the year when that effort fizzled. So far, St. Mark’s Bookshop has raised more than $18,700 of its $150,000 goal, according to the GoFundMe site.
The owners are also willing to sell the business to anyone interested in keeping the store running, Contant said.
NYCHA said the bookshop was months behind on its rent and that the agency started eviction actions in July 2015, per its policy, although it would dismiss the eviction if the owners satisfy their arrears.
Rent collection is "an important source of funding" for the agency, a spokeswoman said.
“NYCHA is facing the worst financial crisis in our history, which includes $17 billion in unmet capital needs for major building repairs," she said in a statement.
"Our financial situation directly impacts the quality of life to our residents. Since rent revenue is an important source of funding for NYCHA operations, the Authority has made rent collection a priority under NextGeneration NYCHA—our long-term strategic plan. “
A trial is scheduled for Jan. 20, according to court documents.