Volume 21, Number 7 | THE NEWSPAPER OF LOWER MANHATTAN | June 27 - July 3, 2008

Downtown Express photo by Jefferson Siegel

The Strand had to take in its sidewalk stands because of Fulton St. construction.

Stranded by construction, book store will close its doors

By James S. Woodman

Strand Bookstore announced this week that its annex at 95 Fulton St. will soon join the multitude of New York bookstores that have succumbed to increasing rents in recent years. The decision to close the bookstore came after its landlord announced a 300 percent rise in rent for the Strand Annex, which will go into effect August 31 when the location’s lease expires.

The recent notice that the water main construction work on Fulton St., directly outside the bookstore, will continue into next year gave the management another grim forewarning for the Strand Annex’s survival. After the construction on Fulton St. began nearly a year ago, the Strand has been unable to place their characteristic racks of used books on the sidewalk and has seen a drop in pedestrian traffic. “Sales just fell tremendously after the construction began,” owner Fred Bass said in a phone interview.

Bass, however, does not see the store’s closing as signifying its failure as a business, but rather sees the annex as a victim of circumstance.

“The numbers just didn’t add up,” Bass said. “It was a great store. We sold a lot of books. I’m sad to see the store going because it was doing very well, but given the circumstances it wasn’t worth it to stay in that location.”

The only used bookstore in Lower Manhattan, Strand Annex has filled the 15,000-square-foot Fulton St. space for 12 years now. Having moved to several different Downtown locations before settling at 95 Fulton St., the Strand Annex has served Lower Manhattan for over 20 years altogether.

Osvaldo Principe, a regular customer, said the closing is “a shame.” Rent increases, he said, were making the city a less interesting place. “This city needs less banks, less Duane Reades, and more bookstores,” said Principe.

“I’m personally brokenhearted,” said David Smith, a robust bearded Strand employee for 11 years. “It’s a very high regarded store, and a nice place to find off-beat stuff and things that you can’t find anywhere else. We have the best section of literary biography in the city.”

The good news for Strand Annex employees, though, is that Bass has committed not to lay off anyone as a result of the closing.

“No one is getting canned,” Strand Annex manager Joe Wakal said. “All of the employees here will be able to work at the 12th St. bookstore or one of our kiosks.”

Despite the much-appreciated promise of job security, the loss of the Fulton St. location will be difficult for most of its employees who have worked in the store for years, according to Wakal. “We don’t have a high turnover here,” Wakal said, “people work here for a fairly long time.”

On June 30, Strand Annex will begin its 20 percent off liquidation sale in hopes to greatly reduce its inventory before its lease expires. Bass said that all of the books left over will be brought to their main store.

Bass does not blame the annex’s closing on the presence of corporate booksellers such as Barnes & Noble. “I have been competing, in a friendly way, with Barnes & Noble for 30 years now,” Bass said. Even as Barnes & Noble have come to all but surround his 12th St. location, Bass says his store’s business has only improved.

Bass does, however, believe that this is a difficult time for bookstores in general. Two Barnes & Noble bookstores in Manhattan (one in Chelsea, the other at Astor Place) have closed in recent months after rent increases, and small bookstores have become a rarity in the city.

“I wonder if this is part of a dying trend,” said employee David Smith.





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