Brick-and-mortar bookstores are disappearing from Manhattan, but this is hardly a surprise—the stratospheric cost of rent prohibits all but the most lucrative businesses from maintaining property on the already cramped island. But seeing a list of the deceased, all bunched together as they were in today's Times, couched in lamenting quotes from literary agents and writers, was just an unnecessary twist of the knife. We've already lost the dive bars and the grit—can't we at least keep the bookstores? What did they ever do to us?
It's hard to mourn the loss of faceless, impersonal chains like Barnes & Noble and Borders, the possible exception being the B&N flagship store that closed its 5th Avenue doors in January. Like many of the authors who fill their shelves, today's bookstores have decamped for less expensive territories: Brooklyn, Queens and Jersey City are popular options. A second outpost of SoHo's McNally Jackson, finding the Upper West Side to be too pricey (surprise!), is expected to open in a Williamsburg loft this fall. Things, ultimately, could be worse—but that doesn't mean we can't wallow for a minute with some eloquently phrased whining:
“Sometimes I feel as if I’m working in a field that’s disappearing right under my feet."
-Robert Caro, historian, author of the Power Broker
“How can Manhattan be a cultural or literary center of the world when the number of bookstores has become so insignificant? You really say, has nobody in city government ever considered this and what can be done about it?”
- Caro, again.
“There are some great bookstores, but there aren’t a lot of them. Compared to other cities, New York is no longer a bookstore city.”
- Michael Pietsch, the chief executive of publishing house Hachette
“My worry is that to make these rents, people are going to have to make the bookstore a place where only wealthy people can be. The higher and higher these rents go, do you have to bring in these expensive leather journals and art books that only rich people can buy?”
- Christine Onorati, co-owner of Word bookstore
“You just have to walk down Fifth Avenue to see what New York has become — it’s become an outlet mall for rich people.”
- Esther Newberg, literary agent
"Change and decay in all around I see," mused Uncle Theodore in Evelyn Waugh's Scoop. You can pick that one up for just $13.88 on Amazon.