Coliseum Seeking Sublet, Still Disputing Lawsuit

Lease this space for just $74,000 a month.

Today’s New York Times follows up on yesterday’s news about venerable retailer Coliseum Books’ bankruptcy filing with more literary doomsaying. But Coliseum co-owner George Leibson tells The Observer that the store’s shuttering is “not a done deal.”

“We’ll probably go out of business, but you never know,” said Mr. Leibson, who suggests that the columned storefront on Fifth Avenue could survive–provided some financial savior comes along to assume the remaining 17 years on its lease.

The company has enlisted Keen Realty to help market the lease, which runs through 2023, with a current monthly rent of more than $74,000, court papers show.

Rent, though, is just part of its economic woes. The list of debts includes hundreds of thousands owed to various book publishers and distributors, plus a “disputed” and “unknown” amount related to an ongoing lawsuit. Since March 2004, Coliseum Books has faced a multimillion-dollar negligence claim brought by a suspected shoplifter who was severely injured during a confrontation with store managers.

Mr. Leibson said the suit was “not a factor” in Coliseum’s decision to file for Chapter 11 protection, which generally brings simultaneous legal proceedings to a halt.

“It’s being defended by our insurance company,” he said. “Matter of fact, until it was brought up when we were filing this thing, I’d forgotten about it.”

The incident in question is still a subject of debate. On the afternoon of Jan. 4, 2004, store managers Allan Kelin and Anthony Urciuoli left the store in pursuit of a suspected shoplifter, later identified as 54-year-old Nassau County resident Oscar Arroyo.

“Although the managers testified that they did not see plaintiffs take any merchandise, they claim, and [Arroyo] disputes, that the security alarm sounded as [Arroyo] passed through the gates or poles located at the front of the store,” according to a Manhattan Superior Court judge’s summary of the arguments.

The managers followed Arroyo out the front door, across Fifth Avenue, to the subway entrance at Madison Avenue and West 42nd Street, where a confrontation took place.

The managers claim that Arroyo refused to let them search his bag and struggle ensued. The bag’s strap broke, sending Arroyo tumbling backward down the stairs.

Arroyo, meanwhile, claims that he was pushed, with one of the managers uttering a racial slur.

Suffering a lengthy list of alleged injuries, including head trauma and seizures, which have left him “totally incapacitated,” Arroyo has sued for some $2 million in lost earnings, plus medical costs, and punitive damages.

In court papers, Coliseum’s lawyers have denied any negligence on the company’s part, and asserted that the incident was “provoked, induced or caused by the plaintiff’s own action and conduct.” The case is ongoing.

The good news? After an ambulance arrived, the store managers found no stolen merchandise in Arroyo’s bag.

(U.S. Bankruptcy Court records indicate that Coliseum Books suffered a net loss of $111,659 in 2004.)

– Chris Shott

Coliseum Seeking Sublet, Still Disputing Lawsuit