Volume 17, Number 39 | February 17-23, 2005

Writing the last chapter at Ruby’s book store

Downtown Express photos by Elisabeth Robert
Ruby’s Book Sale, which opened 45 years ago and moved to Tribeca in 1970, will be closing in March. Co-owner Roberta Sadofsky, bottom, and her husband Marty will be moving to Florida. She said with luxury lofts replacing neighborhood offices, there are fewer customers around during the day.

By Zachary Roy

When Roberta Sadofsky opens the doors of Ruby’s Book Sale on March 7, her store will have been open in Tribeca for 35 years, to the day. More significantly, she will be opening the doors for the last time.

Sadofsky, 60, and her husband Marty, 67, are closing the Downtown new and used book shop that they have owned for more than half their lives, citing a decline in business over the past couple of years.

The Sadofskys venture into the bookshop business began in 1960, when Marty and his father Ruby opened their first store in Chelsea on 23rd St. and 7th Ave. In 1970 they moved to the current and final location at 119 Chambers St. Roberta joined the team five years later. Closing the store was an option the couple began to consider after sales dipped again, following a brief post-Sept. 11 boom.

Ruby’s regular customers, many of whom loyally browse the discounted merchandise on a daily basis, first suspected that something was amiss in early January, when signs appeared for a 50%-off sale. The sale began merely as a way for the Sadofskys to do some “house-cleaning,” but within a few weeks the couple sold the building, in a deal whose details they did not want to disclose.

“It’s always a tough decision,” Roberta said. “We didn’t really have a choice because we reached the point where the business was not supporting itself anymore.”

She doesn’t know the new owner’s plans for the building.

Big book sellers like Borders and Amazon are often blamed for forcing smaller mom and pop stores out of business, but Roberta believes that Ruby’s downfall has had more to do with changes in the neighborhood.

The shop had long been a popular lunch break and after work destination.

“I’m still in shock actually,” regular Ruby’s customer Cynthia Alvarez said about the store’s plan to close. “I’ve been working (in the neighborhood) for 10 years, and every lunch hour, this is my route to wherever I’m going before I go to lunch, just to see what new books or magazines have come in.”

Roberta fondly recalls lunchtimes years ago when Chambers St. would be jammed with pedestrians, and the line in the store would stretch from the cash register to the middle of the store.

Yet as Tribeca has become increasingly trendy and affluent over the years, luxury apartments, lofts and condominiums have displaced offices.

“Where you used to have anywhere from 50 to 200 people working on a floor, you’ve got 4 to 6 people living there. They don’t work in the neighborhood, so they shop on their lunch hour wherever they work,” Roberta explained.

“And I don’t think a lot of the people who live here now are bookstore browsers,” she said. “They know what they want to read. They’re looking for a specific book and they’d just as soon go to Borders and ask for it or order it on Amazon.com and we never attempted to compete with that.”

Ruby’s has carved out its browser-friendly niche by carrying overstocks, leftovers, used books, back issues of magazines, and all of which they could sell at significant discounts.

While sales figures suggest that this type of store is becoming obsolete in a changing society, a lunchtime visit to Ruby’s reveals that there are some browsers left – and they are upset to see the store and its low prices go.

Maureen Pierce-Anyan, an administrator at Queens College, said that she once bought a used book of photographs at the Strand bookstore in the Village, only to find it $8 cheaper at Ruby’s – brand new.

“No, there won’t be a replacement for this place,” said Pierce-Anyan, who regularly buys books at Ruby’s for her students. “Not with this array of things. I’ll have to go to a couple of different places now. It’s been a wonderful store for me.”

The Sadofskys next step will be retirement in Florida.

“It’s a mixture of sadness and relief,” she said. “We made a lot of good friends in the neighborhood. We had a very successful business for a long time.”

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