Requiem for the Manhattan Bookstore, Large and Small

With Upper West Siders still mourning the announcement of the looming closure of the Barnes & Noble across from Lincoln Center, it seems petty to point out that only 15 years ago they picketed its opening.

But then they make it so easy.

The Times manages a straight-faced look at the perpetual browsers who will no longer be able to read books for free. “I’ve been coming here to read Bill Simmons’s ‘Book of Basketball,’ about a chapter at a time,” said one such non-buyer.

In case there was any doubt why the store is closing.

The new Century 21 that will open in the spot may have better luck by offering a shopping experience so distinctly unpleasant the only way to redeem it is with the purchase of a sharply discounted feather boa.


Calling itself yet another victim of the “current economic crisis,” the Oscar Wilde Bookshop, which catered to the gay and lesbian community, shuttered its doors in April 2009.

Gay activist Craig Rodwell founded the bookstore in 1967. Not mincing any words, the bookstore’s Web site notes: “At a time when ‘gay bookstore’ meant ‘porn store,’ Rodwell understood the importance of a store that carried real literature for the lesbian and gay community.”

One day, when we’ve erased the memory of orphan copies of The Picture of Dorian Gray, we may even call it progress that the space has been filled with an acupuncturist and Barnes & Noble has a “Gay and Lesbian Studies” section.

After Trader Joe’s opened last month in the former Barnes & Noble Chelsea spot, there are a few reasons to feel nostalgic.

One is looking back on our only dim awareness in April 2008 of the impending storm. “I had heard some bad things about the U.S. economy,” Wei Wei, from China told CityRoom, suggesting the bookstore’s closing was “somehow connected to the foreclosure crisis.”

Things can’t be looking that much better when reported blandly, “Chelsea's New Trader Joe’s Opens Doors to Moderate Crowds.”

Sadly, it would seem Saturday morning flirting over organic tomatoes is still considered a luxury.


East West Bookstore emptied its shelves and shuttered the windows on its location at 14th Street and Fifth Avenue on June 30 with barely a whisper.

The calm passing is perhaps appropriate for the oasis of incense and New Age wisdom, which once made Time Out’s list of the most relaxing bookstores. Or perhaps it’s simply because we’ve grown used to the gradual passing of the city’s independents.

Some of the store’s small but loyal following remain hopeful East West may yet be reincarnated in a more affordable location.

It’s worth remembering that not every bookstore closing is a metaphor for the slow dying of literary culture.

The Village Voice put it best when it said of Librairie Francaise closing in 2009, “$1 Million Rent Kills the Librairie Francaise.” Indeed, it’s no secret that when its landlord raised the rent from $360,000 annually it would be a fatal blow for Rockefeller Center’s 73-year-old tenant.

Of course, the Voice and others instead lament the passing of a time when rents in the city were still affordable. If indeed they ever were affordable in Rockefeller Center.

It might, instead, be worth remembering that Librairie Francaise got a deal on the space because the Rockefeller family wanted to add some European panache to the new building.

image xlimage 2010 02 r6142 barnes noble 0 Requiem for the Manhattan Bookstore, Large and SmallWith Upper West Siders still mourning the announcement of the looming closure of the Barnes & Noble across from Lincoln Center, it seems a petty to point out that only 15 years ago they picketed its opening.

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