Saving the St. Mark's Bookshop (From Itself)

The St. Mark’s Bookshop has been the beneficiary of a much-Twittered petition to its landlord this last week. Just a little over two years ago, the bookstore signed a new ten-year lease for $20,000 a month. ($240,000 a year; that’s 9,234 full-price hardback copies of The Art of Fielding, or, 36% of Chad Harbach’s advance for The Art of Fielding.) That lease expires in a bit under eight years. Now the owners say it’s onerous (so what were they thinking!?) and they have a meeting with their landlord, Cooper Union, this week. (Their last meeting was ineffectual, the owners said; since, a City Councilmember and others have gone to Cooper Union asking for a reduction.

I love this book store in particular, I love bookstores in general and I also love physical books and… listen, this is just not how leasing or New York City or business works.

I encourage you petition-signers to go to your own landlords—during the first quarter of the lease that you just signed—and ask for a rent reduction. See how that goes. Yeah. If the bookstore wants to become a non-profit bookstore, let’s file that paperwork and do this thing. (I’ll help!) But this odd public-private partnership “public good” conception of a commercial business is giving me the willies a little. (Cruel of me? Maybe! Libertarian? Ugh, possibly. I know.) It is a public good, technically! It’s a great thing! But if you’re not keeping them in business and I’m not keeping them in business… well, something’s broken, right?

It’s also disconcerting that the owners of the bookstore are unrepresented. Just like in court, in real estate the man who has himself for a client is represented by a fool, or however that dumb saying goes. Get a pro bono lawyer and a pro bono commercial broker, price your options and be prepared to break your lease if Cooper Union won’t help you. Posturing in public as “we’re almost too broke to pay our rent, won’t someone please help us” just makes it obvious to your landlord that you probably can’t even afford to move out. The bookstore, despite its radical background and all-around utopian terrificness, is a business and it owes it to itself to act like one. It also deserves proficient allies that’ll help it survive. Now let’s all stop signing Internet petitions and go buy a book.