For thirty-five years, New York's Westsider Rare & Used Books has held court at 2246 Broadway (between 80th and 81st Streets), but increased pressure from larger stores--there's a Barnes & Noble on W. 82nd and the recently resurrected Shakespeare & Co. is at W. 69th and 70th--e-retail, and rising operating costs led owners Dorian Thornley and Bryan Gonzalez to announce that they will be closing their doors in February. (Westsider Records, also owned by Thornley and Gonzalez, will remain open.)
When pressed what it would take to keep the store open, Thornley replied--perhaps in a moment of exasperation--$50,000.
Longtime friend Bobby Panza heard Thornley and set up a GoFundMe campaign, which, since launching on January 15, has already raised nearly $25,000.
"Of course we'd like to keep Westsider open," explained Gonzalez early Thursday morning. "Dorian and I purchased the shop seventeen years ago from the previous owners, and we were employees here before that. But the book market has changed, and even though we do have loyal customers, the cost of doing business here in Manhattan is getting too expensive." Indeed, empty storefronts seem to dot this stretch of the Upper West Side with greater regularity, part of a larger trend confirmed by a recent Douglas Elliman survey finding that 20 percent of the city's retail space is vacant. (See the New York Times' recent infographic documenting the commercial blight sweeping Manhattan in "This Space Available.")
Westsider is something of a local landmark and recalls the halcyon days of used bookstores in Manhattan. The shop even had cameos in Woody Allen's Fading Gigolo and Todd Haynes's Wonderstruck. "It's one of the last remnants of the West Side as it used to be," wrote GoFundMe supporter Daniel Okrent. "I actually shop here," added Westsider regular Maggie McComas. "Last week [I] bought a biography of Wendy Wasserstein and one of Deborah Tannen's books."
And if the fundraising campaign succeeds? "We're not sure how far $50,000 will take us--we haven't really sat down and crunched the numbers," said Gonzalez. If Westsider does in fact close, however, expect a fire sale of current stock.
Aside from skyrocketing costs of doing business in Manhattan, Gonzalez pointed to readers' changing habits, too. "When you get on the subway, everyone's reading--they're just doing it on a Kindle."
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