After all the outcry and petition-signing and discussions about whether we really do need to stick up for independent bookstores (excuse me, what?) I’m gladdened to hear that St. Mark’s Bookshop will be getting a break from their landlord, the Cooper Union. Even if it’s not the rent reduction they’d originally asked for, even if Cooper Union is crying poverty itself these days, it’s still a step in the right direction. After a petition to save the bookstore garnered some 40,00 signatures, Manhattan Borough President Scott M. Stringer stepped in to help broker a deal between the East Village college and St. Mark’s Bookshop owners Bob Contant and Terry McCoy. While they’d originally asked for a $5,000 break in their $20,000-a-month rent, Cooper Union is offering to take it down to $17,500 for a year and forgive $7,000 worth of debt, and yes ma’am, they’ll take it.
The petition, circulated by a group called the Cooper Square Committee, generated enough attention that their business has picked up by about 25% this fall. Michael Moore stopped by to do a signing at the end of October and voiced his support, lending it his own particular logic: “The bookstores are not going to die … because people want to get out of the house! We like being around other people. That’s why we like coming to bookstores.”
I realize this is happening all over the country, and every instance of a small bookstore struggling to stay afloat is important. This one is personal, though—St. Mark’s was my first indie, the first really hip bookseller I wandered into as a teenager with money in my pocket that got me excited just to be there. Not only do I remember when it was actually located on St. Mark’s Place, I remember when it was on the south side of the street, half a block up from the fabulous little East Side Bookstore (RIP). I remember the plywood shelving. I remember stopping in for a copy of the East Village Eye and letting myself get talked into buying all sorts of cool stuff I’d never have discovered on my own.
The city that was my playground is disappearing at a dizzying rate. Some of it I don’t miss, but most of it I do, although indulging in that kind of nostalgia is pretty pointless. But if there’s anything we should pick up from the various Occupy movements around the country, it’s that people are very much in need of hope, and things to believe in, and right now I think it’s a good idea to believe in the St. Mark’s Bookshop. And not just clap-your-hands-three-times believe, but with your wallet. City Councilwoman Rosie Mendez, who was present at the press conference when the conciliation was announced, says: “The next step is on us. We gotta buy books and we gotta buy often.” You know what to do. Well, I do, anyway.