Monday, July 21, 2014

St. Mark's Bookshop Reopens

The last of the old shop

Since 1977 St. Mark's Bookshop has been a cornerstone independent bookseller in the East Village. The global economic crisis in 2008, coupled with a dizzying rent increase (to $23,500 per month) by its landlord, The Cooper Union (embroiled in its own institutional dramas), imperiled its existence at its two-decades-old home at 3rd Avenue between 8th and 9th Streets, leading to several online campaigns to keep the store afloat and, most recently, to ensure it could find a new location in Manhattan. After a hunt the owners found that new location, signing a lease in May for a storefront space at 3rd St. and Avenue A, just a few blocks south of Tompkins Square Park and so, as of this past weekend, St. Mark's Bookshop has reopened.

The new location, under construction
A few weeks ago I met up with a friend, Tisa B., who was visiting from California, and we dropped by the old St. Mark's, which was in the process of being dismantled, shelf by shelf. I stood and watched for a while, wistfully, remembering how often I'd visited the store over the years. It was, I can recall, the first store to stock copies of my first book. It also became, along with the now shuttered Nikos', an indispensable spot to find unusual journals and zines. Though I never read there, I attended a number of readings and talks there over the years, and more often than not would run into friends and acquaintances I hadn't seen in some time. Tisa and I thought the new location had already opened, but instead we found them still under constructed. We were too early, but it was clear the new space would be inviting.

The new location's façade
On E. 3rd Street
The new St. Mark's is considerably smaller (by half), though with a cleaner, airy design. The size is deceptive, though, because there's more room than I expected in the back. White, curving shelves beneath a black ceiling line the shop, a modular unit in the front of the store holds journals, and the book sections are all easier to find by sight. The stock, however, remains on the leaner side (except, strangely enough, for works by Karl Ove Knausgaard), though nowhere near as threadbare as several years ago, when St. Mark's barren appearance suggested the store might not survive. I've never found the staff particularly friendly, and this has carried over into the new store, but the one of the owners was in the day I dropped in, and we had a pleasant chat about St. Mark's carrying the Hilst translations (not there), among other things. Other books I was looking for were not in stock either, but I bought several books I did not already have, and look forward to returning later this year, when they're more fully up and running.

The new space
The front of the store

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