Volume 16, Number 28 | The Newspaper of Lower Manhattan | December 9-16, 2003

Mom and Pop Shop hangs on
After 33-years,couple is not about to give up now

By Aileen Torres

While Tribeca has undoubtedly become trendy, with its share of upscale stores, there are still a few shops offering some bargains. One of them is Ruby’s Book Sale.

The 33-year old business is independently owned by husband-and-wife team, Marty and Roberta Sadofsky, who are also Tribeca residents. They specialize in publishers’ overstocks, reviewers’ copies, backdated magazines, new and used paperbacks, and computer books. All merchandise sells at discount prices.

The bookstore was founded in 1960 by Marty’s father, Ruby. It was originally located in Chelsea on 23rd St and 7th Ave. But after a fire severely damaged the store, they were forced to relocate. They found a new home on Chambers Street just west of West Broadway. They have been there ever since.

While the store clearly has longevity, there are financial troubles in the air.

There has been an overall decline in business since Sept. 11. Immediately after 9/11, Ruby’s was closed for three weeks. When it reopened, its customer base was gone because so many of them were office workers.

But with a general feeling of goodwill among New Yorkers, business began to pick up again.

“There was a major effort by everyone in the area and the city in general to support Tribeca and downtown Manhattan for that first Christmas,” said Roberta, 60. “And so, as we went into the holiday season business, although it was off from previous years, it was surprisingly good.”

Ruby’s sales continued to improve, but late last spring, they began to stagnate then decline once again. “The fall [of 2003] has been a definite fall off from the year before,” said Roberta. “Because of the way things were going last winter, we assumed that we were on an upward track and that things would continue to improve. They haven’t.”

This October, the bookstore’s revenues were approximately 25% lower than the October before 9/11 and about 15% lower than last October’s sales. This November was yet another downturn month financially.

“And that’s not just me,” added Roberta. “I’ve spoken to other neighborhood merchants, and they’ve noticed the same drop off in business this fall that I have.”

One of the reasons for the lower volume of sales, Roberta thinks, is that 9/11 has become old news, so people no longer deliberately go downtown to give economic succor to the area.

But Ruby’s owners maintain an optimistic outlook for this year’s holiday season.

“We have bought merchandise like crazy,” said Roberta, to ensure that “we would have something for everyone.”

“I tried to fill in a lot on the home and shop section, crafts, avocational pursuits,” said Marty, 66. He also stocked up on cookbooks, military history, reference, and architecture books. Compared to last year, the couple actually bought more books to sell this holiday season.

While people who work in the neighborhood are Ruby’s main customers, residents also patronize the store. Uptowners also come to buy art books (which range from $6.99 to $149, according to Roberta) and other similarly pricey books on antiques and collectibles.

“It’s a healthy part of the business,” said Marty, “because our sales are larger to those people.” The store’s other best sellers are children’s books and cookbooks.

And then, there are the paperbacks, a unique stronghold of Ruby’s. This section, in the back third of the store’s elongated space, includes romance novels, mysteries, literature, history, and travel guides. Paperbacks cost half the cover price or less and, on average, generate a third of the day’s business, said Marty.

“They have an eclectic selection,” said a customer who has been frequenting Ruby’s since 1986. He used to work in the area. “The prices are reasonable, and it’s not so big that you can’t find stuff.”

“We have a little bit of a niche,” said Roberta, “because we deal almost exclusively in remainders and overstocks. It puts us not in direct competition with a store like Barnes and Noble.”

Another key to Ruby’s survival in the face of chain bookstores and post-9/11 economic doldrums is its mom-and-pop atmosphere. “The fact that we live in the neighborhood, I think, has been important,” said Roberta. “When your whole life is in the area, you don’t tend to give up on it as quickly as you do when you’ve just got a lease on the store.”

“The reason this business works is because of us, my wife and me,” said Marty.

“Because we’re here, we hear what the customer wants, so we try to fulfill that.”

Whether or not business will pick up this holiday season remains to be seen, but Marty and Roberta are hopeful, as always. “I have to be optimistic,” said Marty. “I put my whole life in this store.” He doesn’t plan on retiring anytime soon.

 




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