More than 36,000 people have signed an online petition to save St. Mark's Bookshop in New York City's East Village, according to a "rent issue update" on the store's Facebook page. "It's very heartwarming to have so many people concerned about the fate of our business," co-owner Bob Contant told Shelf Awareness.
Last year, with sales decreasing in the wake of the 2008 economic downturn, Contant and fellow proprietor Terry McCoy asked their landlord, the arts engineering college Cooper Union, for a reduction in the store's $20,000 a month rent but were turned down.
A groundswell of support for St. Mark's began over the summer after an article in a local publication, The Villager, highlighted the store's plight. The piece came about after a reporter spotted signs around the store emblazoned with the slogan, "Find it here. Buy it here. Keep us here." Contant used the catchy line with the blessing of Carole Horne of the Harvard Book Store in Cambridge, Mass., which coined the phrase, after the two had a discussion about customers browsing and then using smart phones to buy books from an online retailer.
In addition to the online petition, which was started at the suggestion of longtime St. Mark's customer, activist and literary agent Frances Goldin and Cooper Square Committee chairwoman Joyce Ravitz, backing has come from high-profile community figures. District council member Rosie Mendez, Manhattan borough president Scott Stringer, and Andrew Berman, executive director of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation have all written letters to Cooper Union on behalf of St. Mark's.
A decision on the rent reduction of $5,000 a month was expected last week by the Cooper Union Board of Directors, but St. Mark's will have to wait a bit longer to learn its financial fate. The request is to be addressed by the school's Finance and Business Affairs Committee, with a report expected by the end of October. If the reduction is granted, there is "no question" the 34-year-old store will stay in business, noted Contant. If not, its future is uncertain.
Meanwhile, consumers are helping to make a difference. "That has been the most gratifying aspect of all this," said Contant. "People who are signing the petition are also buying books. For the last 10 days, business has been booming. Everyone is coming in and asking what they can do. We tell them, 'buy a book.' " --Shannon McKenna Schmidt