A Bookstore for the Bronx? C’MON ALREADY!
What does it take to get one lousy bookstore opened in the Bronx? We have thirteen centers of higher education and not one bookstore.
At their best bookstores are cultural hubs, gathering places for those seeking knowledge and the power of words. Some bookstores cater to children and even host kids’ poetry readings and storytelling hours. Others host readings by famous writers and co-host local cultural events. Many sell food along with the books. Some specialize in used books. New books. Travel books.
According to the ABA (American Bookseller’s Association) newsletter Bookselling this Week, independent bookstores that are members of ABA report a year-to-year sales increase of 10 percent. Furthermore, the number of ABA member independent bookstores increased 27% since 2009.
Oren Teicher, CEO of the American Booksellers Association, wasn’t surprised that the stories about independent bookstores declining or “dying” were overstated. In a statement, Teicher said, “We are still here because stores play a real role in their community, and tens of times a day they are putting the right book into someone’s hand.”
So…where are our bookstores here in The Bronx?
There are bookstores in Astoria. Washington Heights. Morningside Heights. Harlem.
There are many bookstores in Brooklyn, and not just the oft-vilified “muffins and unicycles” sections of Brooklyn. Besides the foundering Barnes & Noble – an outfit flailing about for a viable business model – Brooklyn has (to name just a few): Word, Greenlight, Unnameable, Community, Powerhouse (two!), Molasses, Terrace, Bookmark Shoppe, Hullabaloo, and Books Are Magic.
What gives? Again, where’s our bookstore?
Bronxites read, that’s for sure. The Bronx Library Center on Kingsbridge Road hums with eager learners, of all ages, seven days a week. Citywide, program attendance is up 28 percent, year-to-year, according to the New York Public Library’s 2016 Annual Report.
Just this week, $2 million in new funding allocations were secured to relocate the “cozy” Van Cortland branch library to a new, larger home. It will be a state of the art facility.
To me, however, the joy of reading – heck, the necessity of reading – rests on a multi-part foundation: libraries, home encouragement, in-school support and, yes, bookstores.
Bookstores make a statement, as does their absence. Bronxites are still smarting from the Barnes & Noble decision to close their Bronx store. The company is reeling, and according to its most recent annual report, “Total sales were $821 million for the quarter and $3.9 billion for the full year, decreasing 6.3% and 6.5% over the prior year periods, respectively. Comparable store sales declined 6.3% for both the fourth quarter and full year…(F)or the quarter, Retail generated an operating loss of $15.9 million, while NOOK incurred an operating loss of $7.9 million, for a total operating loss of $23.8 million…”
On the other hand, Bronxites hailed recent news regarding Lit Bar, a hybrid bookstore/wine bar venture spearheaded by a homegrown businesswoman, Noelle Santos. She admits a lack of direct bookstore, retail and hospitality industry experience. No matter, apparently. The ambitious entrepreneur continues to raise hopes, along with more than $150,000 through crowd sourcing. Young, energetic and earnest, Santos is a publicist’s dream. Her quest is hailed by luminaries such as Michael Moore, and her media coverage ranges from The Today Show, to Forbes, to The New York Times, to the BBC.
So far, however, no store.
This week, in response to a query, Santos wrote in an emailed message: “Our opening info is pending a final lease, but I am focusing efforts on the Mott Haven neighborhood of the South Bronx. Our email subscribers will be the first to know; so if you haven’t done so already, I invite you to sign up at www.thelitbar.com to stay updated on our progress.”
Hope springs eternal.
It better. School starts soon, along with a renewed sense of purpose and resolve, for a borough of hard-working residents and their children, all eager to improve their lives. That takes knowledge. And that takes books.
I remember well my days as a dollar-an-hour page at the New York Public Library on Marion Avenue, spending more time reading than shelving books from the wooden dollies I pushed through the stacks after a full day at De Witt Clinton High School.
And I remember fondly taking my hard earned money not to a local eatery or ice cream shop, but to Bookmasters, just south of Fordham Road, on the Grand Concourse. There I leafed through books and dreamed of a wider world. Borrowing a book was a gift. But owning a book, new or used, let me believe that the knowledge within its pages was mine, all mine, a paper life raft to take me far away.
How was I to know, so many years ago, that Bookmasters and, later, Coliseum Books, the Strand, and many more, led me to write stories of my own, and read them to others, in bookstores far and wide.
The name of the new Brooklyn bookstore rings true: Books Are Magic. They are indeed.
So what’s taking so long? Somebody! Open a damn bookstore here in The Bronx already!
Martin Kleinman is a Bronx-based storyteller. He has captivated audiences with his tales of real New Yorkers (therealnewyorkers.com) in New York City venues from KGB Bar, to Brooklyn’s Union Hall, to the Bronx’s An Beal Bocht. Kleinman lives in the Bronx and is a regular controbutor to thisisthe Bronx – MAGAZINE SUNDAY.
To submit writing for publication, send it to info@thisistheBronX.info. Fiction, non-fiction, commentary, news, news analysis, and poetry are welcome. Bronx slant always preferred.