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FIT Students Petition To Save Fashion Bookstore as Closure Looms

By Maya Rajamani | October 28, 2016 5:21pm | Updated on October 31, 2016 8:39am
 Fashion Design Books at 250 W. 27th St., near Eighth Avenue.
Fashion Design Books at 250 W. 27th St., near Eighth Avenue.
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DNAinfo/Maya Rajamani

CHELSEA — Students at the Fashion Institute of Technology have launched a petition to save a soon-to-shutter fashion-focused bookstore — though one of the store's manager says it’s “too late,” as the school itself will soon be taking over the space.

Fashion Design Books at 250 W. 27th St., near Eighth Avenue, will close on Nov. 15, a store manager named Alex, who asked that his last name be withheld, said Friday.

During negotiations, the bookstore’s owner offered the building’s realty company $24,000 a month for the space — $10,000 more per month than the store is currently paying — but FIT outbid the store with a $35,000-per-month offer, the manager said.

“We couldn’t afford that, so we just let it go,” he said. “Right now it’s too late. We can’t do anything."

The realty company offered to lease the cafe space next door to the bookstore, but decided soon after to rent that space to FIT as well, Alex added.

The petition — which had garnered nearly 400 signatures as of Friday — accuses FIT of forcing the store out of business with its offer.

However, Sherry Brabham, FIT’s treasurer and vice president for finance and administration, said on Friday the account of what happened “was not FIT’s experience at all.”

The bookstore building’s co-op president approached the school about the two spaces in March, and said neither the bookstore nor the now-shuttered Cafe 27 would be renewing their leases, she said.

“We want to make sure the community understands that we were not the leverage for the bookstore leaving,” she said. “We felt that the decision had been already made.”

A representative for Halstead Management Company’s Picaso division, which manages the properties, did not respond to a request for comment, and the bookstore's owner could not be reached.

FIT — which will start constructing a new academic building behind the Feldman Building within the next year — plans to use the bookstore and cafe as a “swing space” to house any campus activities that are disrupted by construction, she said.

Some students, however, feel the money FIT is using to lease the two spaces could be put to better use.

“We felt like this money they’re [going to be] spending monthly, which is a huge amount, could be used toward repairing the sewing machines, repairing the irons,” said textile design student Amanda Tonelli, 21. 

She launched the petition along with another student named Lorraine, who asked that her last name and age not be included.

"We were both really upset about it," Tonelli said.

“There’s so many things that could be replaced and redone,” Lorraine added.

Both said that FIT students will either be forced to pay higher prices at the campus Barnes & Noble store across the street from the fashion bookstore — which doesn’t have all the items they need —  or travel elsewhere to pick up supplies for classes if the bookstore closes.

Brabham, meanwhile, said FIT officials “try very hard to be on top of keeping the equipment in good working order."

“I’m sure this petition… has even made them more focused on those particular issues,” she said. “If there are… sewing machines that are broken, or irons that are broken, there’s no reason those cannot be replaced.”

FIT will work with Barnes & Noble to make sure the store stocks items students need for classes, as the chain has a policy of matching prices if students find lower-priced items elsewhere, Brabham said. 

Nevertheless, many of the past and present students who signed the petition are already mourning Fashion Design Books' impending closure.

“It’s going to change the ecosystem of the whole neighborhood,” Lorraine said. “It’s another small business that’s being squelched.”