Tucked away on a once-quiet corner on Bleecker and 11th Street in the West Village, the Biography Bookshop — a treasure trove of both forgotten titles and newer releases with easy-on-the-wallet bargains — has been a West Village institution since it opened 24 years ago. But next month the beloved store will be forced to relocate thanks to the ever inflating leases in this desirable locale.
It’s no secret just how much the neighborhood has changed over the last few years. Forget the insane lines that wrap around Magnolia Bakery (thanks a lot, Sex and the City!); where there used to be a Turk-run bodega, there’s a Steve Madden. The quaint antique shop has become Ralph Lauren, and looking down the block one can see a Mulberry, Tommy Hilfiger and Lulu Guinness boutiques (and let’s not even get started on Marc Jacobs). With their lease just about up, Biography Bookshop can no longer afford to compete with the big chains which have no problem paying extortionate rents — in some instances rising to an astonishing $80,000, and the new tenants at the former Biography Bookshop can look forward to paying eight times the lease owners Chuck and Carolyn Epstein signed ten years ago.
“Things have definitely changed,” said Judy Hayman, a gray-haired and smiling worker at Biography since 2002 and longtime friend of the Epsteins. “The area has changed drastically. Now there are so many fashion oriented shops and, of course, Magnolia. The locals have no reason to walk down this street anymore, I mean, who wants a thousand dollar purse?” As one passing customer said of the store, “They’ve been around forever. The neighborhood will be a retail wasteland hellhole without them.”
Part of the charm of Biography Bookshop has always been its cramped corners (customers and employees alike are forever treading on each other imbetween the shelves bursting with books), and overstuffed nooks. With its move to 266 Bleecker Street (near the much-less charming Seventh Avenue) the store will leave behind its name and be rechristened BookBook. “Originally this was a specialist biography shop,” Ms. Haymen said. “But times have changed and we have gradually expanded into a general bookshop offering much more variety to people. But even now, passers-by don’t realize we offer more than just biographies so this is a great chance to change our name and hopefully stop the confusion.”
She said she feels confident that the move doesn’t necessarily have to be a cause for all gloom. “We took necessity and made a virtue of it,” Ms. Haymen said. “Our new location will not mean a different bookshop…just a bigger one.”
Employees remain hopeful that their customers (‘intelligent, pleasant and wonderful’) will follow them to their new home, and there’s even some optimism that its proximity to NYU will provide some coveted extra business. And what will move into the coveted space after Biography departs (we give you three guesses!)? Owner Carolyn Epstein just laughed and said, “Well, we already know Marc Jacobs will be moving in.”