NYC's Book Culture in Trouble, Seeks Help
|Book Culture on Columbus|
In a "letter to the community" posted yesterday on Facebook, Chris Doeblin, owner of Book Culture, which has four stores in New York City, wrote, "Our 4 stores are in danger of closing soon and we need financial assistance or investment on an interim basis to help us find our footing. This is true in spite of the fact that business has been good and we are widely supported and appreciated."
The key problem, apparently, is payroll: "In the last 30 months the payroll costs for Book Culture have risen by 50% and it has been difficult to adapt quickly enough. We have now made the structural changes to our company and the cuts that will allow us to move ahead profitably once we find the financial resources we need." Much of the increase comes from rising minimum wage laws in New York City, and some may come from terms of the contract Book Culture signed with union employees in 2014 (after a very contentious period that included staff pickets outside Book Culture stores), but this isn't apparent from the Facebook letter. Doeblin did point out to Gothamist that since 2016 the minimum wage has risen to $15.25 from $10.
Although Doeblin wrote that "we need financial help to continue our transition," the store isn't launching a crowd-sourcing campaign or otherwise seeking donations. Instead, he asked that supporters write to the city council, the Manhattan borough president, the mayor, the governor and other officials to "help us make the case for our continued existence."
He added: "Book Culture's stores generate over $650,000 in sales tax revenue each year for the city and state. We employ over 75 people at peak season and had a payroll over $1.7M last year. All of that payroll along with the $700,000 a year that we pay in rent goes right back into the New York economy, which is why I address our government here. Many large development plans, Amazons HQ2 in LIC for example, included a cost to taxpayers of $48,000 per job. There is a history here of local government aiding business when it produces a return for the locality."
Doeblin told Gothamist that Book Culture needs at least $500,000 in loans "but I hope to find $750,000 to $1 million." He stated, too, that he wants the city to guarantee the loan.
Founded near Columbia University in 1997 as Labyrinth Books and renamed Book Culture in 2007, the store has transformed from having an academic emphasis to a general trade bookstore. As Book Culture, it opened two more locations on the Upper West Side in Manhattan and most recently, in late 2017, it opened a branch in Long Island City in Queens.
In his open letter, Doeblin also broadly outlined the contributions Book Culture makes to the city from the company and staff spending most of their money in the city to its ability to "take an empty storefront and spin it into a wonderful community asset that transforms a neighborhood."
He continued: "This combination of talent and industry, so common in smaller businesses is too often overlooked and not given the support and nurture that it deserves. The capital pools that allow projects like Amazon's near entree into New York or building projects like Hudson Yards aren't available for small businesses like ours. But they ought to be. We have been financed by credit card, by 30% a year interest loans and by remortgaging our home."
He added: "We do not reject large business, or internet commerce, but we know that we can't build a future by accepting that businesses simply extract and accumulate. We need to support a culture of businesses that serve our communities holistically. And we need to move to a greater diversity of ownership not towards more consolidation."