Friday, April 13, 2012

Save St. Mark's (Again)

After tens of thousands of petition signatures, after protests, letters to Cooper Union, visits from Michael Moore, banner book-buying weekends, and celebrations of great success, St. Mark's Bookshop is back on the ropes.



Reports Publishers Weekly today:

"'We’re hanging in there, barely,' says co-owner Bob Contant. 'It’s a difficult April. Traffic is down. Without an increase, we can’t rebuild our inventory. We’re 20% short of where we need to be.' The store is on hold with a number of publishers, including Simon & Schuster, HarperCollins, and Perseus, for relatively small sums between $500 and $2,5000. "It’s a catch 22," says Contant. 'We can’t buy more books. Up until this month we thought we were out of the woods.'

A few landlords have come forward offering the store lower rent, but moving would be costly and the store’s business credit cards are already maxed out. 'We would like to stay where we are, even at the high rent,' says Contant, 'unless an angel comes along.'

What would help, he says, is if everyone who signed the petition came in or called in and bought a book."



We've had two great "Buy A Book" weekends, and I encourage you all to visit the store again this weekend to buy some books--and keep buying books. But in this anti-book era, in this iZombie culture, what St. Mark's Bookshop needs most is a powerful new business plan--something that will sustain them in the long run, something that will keep attracting book buyers, day after day.

In Brooklyn, bookstores like Word and Greenlight are thriving in this e-book economy. What's their secret? I'm calling on them to step forward and offer their assistance and know-how to St. Mark's Books. I'm calling on the owners of St. Mark's Bookshop to follow their example and make the vital changes necessary to stay afloat. I'm calling on successful authors to show up with donations in hand.

We need St. Mark's Bookshop--now and for years to come. But it's going to take a village.

*UPDATE: #cashmob St. Mark's Bookshop, Sunday April 15, at 1:00 pm. Spend $15 on a book. Spend your tax refund! Then go drink at INTERNATIONAL BAR. Please re-tweet...spread the word.

Also: Join the bookshop's Facebook page and follow their Twitter.

46 comments:

Bowery Boogie said...

it's a shame that we need buy-a-book weekends and record store day to keep book and music industries alive.

this bookstore is essential to the community.

onemorefoldedsunset said...

Very hard if they want to stay in the same place. Don't know what the rent is at Greenlight & Word, but I know Community in Brooklyn got investors (including local writers)to keep it going, & recently had a cash mob, but it still has a shaky existence. Not too far away from there, Bookcourt thrives & expands. They bought the building decades ago. Maybe some established writers might pitch in for St. Mark's, though.

I just read The Collected Writings of Joe Brainard (just out), & really recommend it if anyone's stumped for a book to buy. A beautiful collection, & it has some nice references to his early days in the East Village.

Jeremiah Moss said...

cashmob--good idea, i just announced one for Sunday. worth a try. thanks!

Marty Wombacher said...

I just retweeted the cashmob idea. I'll be there at 1PM and hope to see others as well!

Jeremiah Moss said...

thanks Marty. my fingers are crossed this one works.

John M said...

Sadly, I think you it the nail on the head, Jeremiah. No disrespect intended to the owners, but clearly St. Mark's is not managed in a way that would allow it to succeed at its current location. As great as it is having them where they are...and appreciating that they don't have the money to move...management is obviously well over its head. It's a tough business, the market is undergoing a fundamental upheaval, and they simply don't have the management skills to deal with it all, certainly not at a pretty high-rent location.

The idea of getting some guidance from successful shop owners is a good one. The problem here is that we all line up to give them a fish, when what they actually need is to learn how to fish. To succeed in the environment we have today is going to take some degree of brilliance. I sure don't have it, but I hope these guys develop some in time.

Ms. said...

Despite limited income and the fact that my library is overflowing on to stacks on the floor, I feel the sudden, compelling desire to buy a book for the cause this weekend, and I'm gonna give in to it!

Shawn Chittle said...

I'll be there. Invited a few friends, too.

Eric Brasure said...

What are WORD and Greenlight doing that St. Marks isn't? Well, nothing. Those stores are simply in neighborhoods that people care about.

I would guess that the majority of people that live in the East Village are people that don't give a shit about the East Village.

eatenbybears said...

I agree with JohnM when he wrote, "The problem here is that we all line up to give them a fish, when what they actually need is to learn how to fish." They've never learned how to fish and now they are expecting people to bail them out, yet again? I say,"No." As sad as it is, when the shit hit the fan the last time they should have seen that as a wake up call to search out new ways to make a go of it. I don't think they have. Considering they have been having these problems going back to the late 80s, I'm surprised they're still around.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Eric, it's not a hot neighborhood, it's mostly NYU students and people that have lived there for decades and decades. The people that kept them going for years probably moved away, died, etc.

Uncle Waltie said...

I thought I already had made my point...must have been on some other blog.
I've spent countless hours browsing magazines and books in that place. Not once did management or sales staff interfere with my browsing. I will support this place with all I can afford.

Anonymous said...

Not the bookshop's fault. People who live and come to visit in the EV are more interested in being seen at the bars, trendy restaurant. It needs to move where people still value reading in print. Maybe Inwood, Bushwick, or New Hope, PA.

cathryn said...

To the last commenter, bookstores don't usually bother you for browsing. I don't know how long you were there but I've never really thought that was an issue in any bookstore I've been in.

Anyway, very interesting discussion. Greenlight IS on a newly revitalized strip but I also felt like the first time I went to St. Mark's in the new location maybe six years ago like it felt so much more 'corporate' than I expected. Sort of sanitized. I expected this rough around the edges place and it wasn't really that dissimilar to Barnes & Noble - in vibe - other than that it was an indie.

Fascinating discussion. I hope it remains but also perhaps can learn a bit. I think different location actually could be their saving 'grace.'

my private coney said...

Just reposted and with health cooperating, will be there!

Rachel said...

Word and Greenlight are doing a lot that St Marks isn't doing.

- They sell children's books.
- They hold in-store book clubs and events.
- They use the internet and social media.

St Marks has repeatedly expressed unwillingness to try any of these things, so...

Brendan said...

The main thing WORD is doing is just being really, really tiny, and only stocking stuff that moves. You won't really find anything off the beaten path there.

I like WORD. I think they do the best they can with that tiny space. But I don't know that the business model is applicable to a place like St. Mark's.

LIBERATION said...

One word: Tabatha

Anonymous said...

Setting aside Word and Greenlight for the moment...how about Shakespeare & Co? Does that count as a successful indy bookstore St. Marks could learn somethimg from? If so, I imagine issues of neighborhood and community culture might be less of a differentiator, since the two stores are comparatively nearby, though even so I'd guess that Shake & Co. location has a few advantages (Broadway foot traffuc, more in the NYU mix, etc...)

Jeremiah Moss said...

you know, i never hear much about Shakespeare & Co. i go in there, buy books, but i don't hear the hype around them like the Brooklyn shops. i do wonder how they survive in NYU-Land.

Scott Stowell said...

I sent out an update about the cash mob and some friends retweeted it. I'll probably be there earlier than 1pm today, but books will be bought.

Jeremiah Moss said...

thanks Scott!

Jeremiah Moss said...

Word and Greenlight really make the most of social media. They have blogs, they have relationships with blogs, they have staff "personalities" who make recommendations and write reviews. They have staff members who engage you when you walk in the door. They have in-store literary events that aren't just readings.

People spend money in places where they feel like they have a relationship.

I'd love to see St. Mark's get an intern from Cooper Union or someplace, a young and enthusiastic person who can set them up on social media, and help them to engage more with the community.

Would that all save them? I don't know, but it's worth a shot.

Kurt said...

It costs a little more, but readers who want to support St. Marks can order nearly any book through its website -- instead of through Amazon -- and pick it up at the store.

St. Marks should update its website to make that option obvious.

onemorefoldedsunset said...

May not make it for 1:00 pm, but will be buying a book today.

maximum bob said...

Here are three books that everybody should have: (especially New Yorkers)
Up In the Old Hotel Joseph Mitchell
Low Life Luc Sante
Heart of the World Nik Cohn

Crazy Eddie said...

Not too long ago, I stopped by St. Mark's to buy some kind of LinkedIn for dummies book. I wanted to give them my business as opposed to going on Amazon. I asked the employee on duty at the time and she laughed and told me that they don’t even have a IT/IS section and she thought it would be a good idea for the owner to read a couple of IT/IS beginner books as well. I can’t make the cashmob and I will continue to buy from them but they need to reboot their BM.

Jeremiah Moss said...

agreed, re: the rebooting of the business model. what if everyone wrote them an email, or left a message on their facebook page, letting them know this? i don't think they understand how critical it is.

i really, really, really don't want to live in this neighborhood without that bookstore. it restores my soul again and again.

Anonymous said...

I stopped shopping there - & I work in retail down the street - as the staff is usually so stoned they barely acknowledge any sale or life in existance. It's almost embarressing the few words & zero eye contact. It's really an 'I don't care' air. McDonalds is friendly ... & I stand behind a counter too all day, often bored, so I understand, but I show some interest in those making a purchase. Once at the store we had a major MAJOR shoplift $400 & the guy had been to other stores we found on the net. I brought the picture of the guy to some local stores immediately including St. M's. The stoner after looking at me so long I kept repeating myself cause I thought he didn't speak english said "so?" Dude, what about thanks for thinking of us? Or, wow, what happened? Or, what do you know about him? Or, we'll put his picture up. Or, even ... ohhh ... goodbye? I just left the picture & left. When he comes back to earth I hope he cares about his business. The problem is, employees often follow employers. So, for me, if this is how the employees are how are management? And, I'm a pot smoker too, but never at work.

As for the earlier comment on record store day ... J&R gets all the special releases & what's left over goes to the little stores. There's no such thing as community days anymore.

Anonymous said...

why do you need to tell a business to change their business model?
It is CLEAR it is not working since they are not making any money.
They are as dumb as Kate’s Joint and want to survive on name only without making any changes AT ALL!
DUH!

Anonymous said...

Were people cash mobbing Borders bokostores when they were closing? I miss Borders bokostoe and bokostores in general; chain or not.

LIBERATION said...

A small group of us went yesterday and purchased some books, easily a few hundred dollars worth. When the guy ringing us up was told we were there for the cash mob, I don't think he mustered up so much as an "Oh" and kept ringing us up. I certainly wasn't expecting a ticker tape parade for buying some books but a simple "thank you" and a smile would have been nice. Regardless we all had a good time hanging out afterwards and will enjoy our books.

The bottom line is if they want to survive they need to adapt and engage their community. The fact they are such a niche bookstore works to their advantage because they know who their audience is. Hold monthly events. Readings with up and coming authors. Readings with well known authors. They are one of the few places carrying fanzines. Do a seminar about zine publishing in 2012. Get creative people. Your success is in your hands.

Marty Wombacher said...

Liberation makes some really good points in his last comment. I agree that things like readings and seminars would encourage more people to visit and buy books and magazines. I also just checked their Twitter feed and there was not on Tweet about the cash mob that happened yesterday. I really want to see them flourish and hope they try and make some changes to become more profitable.

esquared said...

I love St. Mark's Bookshop, however the staff members there remind me of the salesclerk in High Fidelity and Dylan in Black Books; they do need to tone down on the attitude and snobbery, and need to engage with their customers more.

I remember when after they were saved by the petition and a couple of customers were there to tell them that they are glad that the bookshop is still there and that they signed the petition and the best the staff can do is an insincere 'thank you' and a look as if saying 'great you signed the petition, now do you want a cookie'. It's up to them to make the bookshop in its current location.

Anonymous said...

yeah, i would like to know why mcnally, shakespeare, strand, greenlight, word, mast, east vill books are all surviving it seems ok. well, who knows how it's going for all day to day, but the one that stands out to me the most is mcnally - it is so new and seems so thriving but i would have go guess their rent is soooo expensive in prince. how do they survive with all those employees? also, it's true, greenlight is thriving too... what is the difference? i buy books at all of these places just depending on who doesn't have what. i try to buy at st marks and then browse at other spots just to see what they've displayed since i don't buy online and like stores' suggestions. the other thing tho i'm not hearing here is that i thought we all kinda liked the ny attitude. so you mean that the 'tude that st mars had worked for a time up to the 90s but now it's all condofied/wtf-ied/luxury-fied that you can't be that way anymore? i like the attitude and understand it (but the folks are nice to me prob b/c i'm not a yuppie or trust funder and obviously look like i'm not. every inch of my working classness shows. but anyway, i dunno anymore. we can't have ny 'tude or shops die? we gotta be super friendly mall like? siiighhh i'm just confused cuz the 'tude worked in the past. it's just sad it won't work no more. siigh again x 20.

Jeremiah Moss said...

the attitude question is one i also grapple with. i like some attitude. the two times i went into Trader Joe's, i felt assaulted by the friendliness. it's not New York in there.

but when i go into a bookstore like Three Lives & Co., they acknowledge me. they make suggestions. when i buy a book they say things like, "oh, this is a good one" or "i've been meaning to read this one."

i like that. it's a nice middle-ground between total attitude and blowing sunshine up my ass.

fuwanna said...

I don't like the idea of any indie bookstore going under, but as a former bookbuyer & mgr of a couple well-known NYC indies & someone who's worked as an indie store consultant I'm also one of those folks who's never liked the way St Mark's was set up or run. Just briefly: I don't think they use their space well and I can't tell you how much that elevated register area blows! It's the wrong message for both employees & customers.

No one wants them to be Trader Joes (!), but I also hate that crappy old bookstore clerk game of scoring easy points on customers--it's not exactly challenging & only a dickhead could take much repeated satisfaction out of it.

St Mark's also, for as long as I've been in NYC ('93), has always had a bad rep as a place to work. The pay was always among the worst & for those who had any experience in NYC bookstores & needed work it was always a last resort.

The vaguely B&N vibe another commenter noted has always indicated to me a broader rigidity & lack of imagination--they have enough of the "right" books, but somehow it all falls flat. And why they can't do great events--by which I mean, say, Julia Kristeva (not some non-fiction book involving Julia Childs)--is beyond me. Why they can't make it a more lively place is beyond me.

BTW Shakespeare & Co survives solely on the sales of textbooks. It has long been one of the worst bookstores in the city--it's more like some 3rd-rate mall chain than an indie.

And the Community Bookstore on 7th Ave in Bklyn is just plain sad. The owner, for whatever her good intentions, has been totally clueless forever. An infusion of cash from John Turturro & advice from other people who've never run a bookstore ain't gonna help.

Anonymous said...

it's easy to see why McNally is surviving- look at its crowd and demographic. it also has many events to rope in the locals and those interested. it is actually worth paying full price for a book in that atmosphere.

the Strand's appeal is obvious- it is cheaper. people want to save money on books. the cheaper the better. but that place is trying to gouge you now with the prices- they have many books which are actually full price. long gone are the discount days. even the 1 dollar racks are shrinking to make room for the 2, 3, 5 dollar racks.

perhaps the greatest bookstore is Three Lives & Company in the west village. everyone who works there is knowledgeable. you can browse at your leisure without being bothered. they always have incredible selections at their display tables, not only the new books but things which can easily grab your attention and open your wallet. the place itself is absolutely lovely. they host events, but sporadically, but when they do, it is literate (not some kids' crafts like McNally does).

as for the used bookstores in the city, not sure how they get by....

St Marks' Bookstore on the other hand- there is something about its atmosphere, rather sterile. Since its move to their current location, rather than the more fun old location (where the Korean restaurant is), they just seem to exist. I have bought a magazine or two from them, but never a book in over ten years...i feel there is no payback for me...it will be a shame to lose a bookstore, but that's life...if anything, this bookstore should encourage the kind of east village/downtown/punk mentality like Shakespeare and Company in Paris is taking it to the bank with the constant mention of Hemingway, Fitzgerald etc...

Jeremiah Moss said...

one thing about McNally--i can't stand going in there because they foster an atmosphere of noise. people are yapping on phones, the staff members are squealing over babies and that book-printing machine they have in there. it's too much conviviality for a bookstore. browsing books requires some level of quiet.

Three Lives gets the friendly levels just right.

esquared said...

Crawford Doyle Booksellers in the UES, is also an independent bookstore that's still thriving. The staff is very knowledgeable and love books. The bookstore is hip and quaint -- a browser's paradise. Feels like you're in a bookstore in the EV of the past. And if you don't know what you want, they'll recommend something best on your author favorites or preferences.

Brendan said...

I always thought the New York attitude was "no bullshit." Two civilized adults conducting a business transaction, and maybe, if you come often enough, developing a genuine but circumscribed relationship.

Trader Joe's "friendliness" and the Jack Black in High Fidelity schtick both seem pretty bullshit to me.

Anonymous said...

that is definitely true about the noise/gimmick factor of mcnally, but that is also part of its demographic (well to do housewives with their baby carriages. fashionable "models" and assorted hipster nolita-type fashion douchebags who love talking on the phone).

Eric said...

I'm glad that others are bringing up the fact that shopping at St. Mark's kind of sucks. It's weirdly laid out and lit and the staff definitely has an affected "we don't give a shit about you" vibe.

They also have pretty much the worst science fiction section I've ever seen.

Will it be a shame when they close? I guess, but I'm not going to lose sleep over it. I barely spend any time in that neighborhood as it is.

Jeremiah Moss said...

Anon, so true about the McNally demographic--i wonder why that is.

Eric, i can't agree that St. Mark's Bookshop "kind of sucks." it's definitely my favorite bookstore in town--i always, always find something there i did not otherwise know existed, something i want, something that stimulates me creatively and/or intellectually. no one else has that selection and no one else displays their books in such a way that allows that kind of serendipity to happen.

if it closes, the city will be losing something vital.

Caleo said...

St Mark's bookshop does not HAVE TO close, but they do have to change and adapt... and it doesn't seem like the owners have much intention of doing that.
As I mentioned at EVgrieve, there are much more affordable spaces available in the EV, but they claim they can't afford to move. So, they can't afford to move to a location for 50% of what their rent is now, but they can't afford the current rent either. They have to try harder than that.
The old space on St. Marks was warmer and more inviting. The current location is sterile and empty.
I love the place, but I can't generate much sympathy if they aren't willing to adapt and help themselves first.

marjorie said...

Wow, this is a great thread. I think there's useful advice here for ANY small business owner.

I will stand up for St Marks children's book section -- the commenter who says they don't have one is wrong. It is tiny, but VERY well-edited.

I like shopping at the Strand. It's the right level of chaos for me, and I like that it feels a little grubbier than St Marks. I wouldn't ever while away the afternoon at St Marks -- it's a get-in, get-out kind of deal.

McNally-Jackson has been AMAZING to The Neighborhood School, agreeing to host a fundraiser for our at-risk school library even though they'd already scheduled an event earlier that day (they do a TON of events, as someone said) and NOT ONLY donating the space but also offering us, unsolicited, the proceeds from book sales that night. They were lovely, receptive, efficient, and community-minded, and they knew before we contacted them that our library was on the chopping block! Whoa.