I recently wrote about the difficulties that St. Mark’s Bookshop in the East Village was having in staying afloat, given their current rent. The bookstore’s owners had laid off employees and cut their own salaries in half to help defray a steep decline in sales, which has been attributed to “the poor economy and the rise in sales of electronic books.” Well, good news! For now, at least:
At a meeting in Mr. Stringer’s office [the Manhattan Borough President], the college agreed to reduce the store’s rent to about $17,500 a month from about $20,000 for one year, and to forgive $7,000 in debt. The school will also provide student help with revising the store’s business plan.
This is interesting, of course, in that if significant changes aren’t made, the bookshop might be back in the same place next year. The owners themselves admit as much. And I wonder whether they were glad or a little offended that Cooper Union will be sending students to help with their business model. I’ll admit that I have often thought that St. Mark’s website could make it a little easier to buy books online–they do have some books for sale (a good selection of remainders, autographed copies, and even some DVDs), but the general stock isn’t browseable, which seems to be a misstep to me. Also, although St. Mark’s has partnered with Google Books to sell ebooks on their website, they have not necessarily done much to promote or grow this aspect of their business.
In the face of their temporary respite, I hope that St. Mark’s takes the initiative to explore more successful business models so that their store cannot only stay open, but actually flourish. I think that a great model to follow would be Greenlight Books in Ft. Greene. Greenlight opened a few years ago (brave souls!) and has really impressed with their ability to provide a locally-relevant stock, host exciting (often local, again) author events and readings, and create a website which makes online ordering and the purchasing of ebooks really easy. Greenlight has quickly become a neighborhood institution in Ft. Greene, much like St. Mark’s has been (and will hopefully continue to be) in the East Village. There are, of course, other bookstores in the city which have also been successful at creatively working with their communities and broadening their scopes without ever losing the feel of a comfortable neighborhood bookstore. So hopefully, St. Mark’s will take note. I look forward to seeing what the next year has in store for them.