The saga of the St. Mark’s Bookshop is getting almost long enough to fill an empty shelf. In the latest chapter, the beloved indie bookstore has launched a $150,000 gofundme campaign to keep the lights on and the books in stock.
This isn’t the first time the Bookshop has tried to leverage community support. In 2014, an auction and $50,000 Indiegogo campaign raised money for a move from Third Avenue to East Third Street. But one of the owners, Bob Contant, says it wasn’t enough to defray some unexpected expenses, and a more recent call for investors didn’t pan out.
In particular he blames Cooper Union, his previous landlord, for making the move more costly. He says the school forced him to vacate his shop of 37 years by July 1, 2014, to make room for a new tenant, but the storefront remained empty. (We’ve contacted Cooper Union about the current status of the space, which was briefly used for a pop-up.) [Update: A representative from Cooper Union said Contant’s characterization was “untrue,” but declined to elaborate further for reasons of confidentiality.]
But his new location wasn’t ready yet. In the meantime, the shop had to move its inventory into storage and keep up with mounting costs. “That really killed us,” he said. “Three weeks without any income and you still have to pay your bills.” Besides the storage fees, there were contractors, painters and working crews to settle with, quickly depleting the funds for the move.
Contant said the business hadn’t been able to bounce back since that blow. “We were never able to get enough traction in order to actually buy inventory, not only pay bills and staff,” he said. “It’s a catch-22 — unless you have inventory you don’t have income.”
Entire sections are depleted — the critical theory section, once a St. Mark’s hallmark, doesn’t exist anymore. Contant estimates he spends only $500 a week on new inventory, the amount he typically would sell in a day.
Still, Contant thinks the shop can thrive if the gofundme campaign allows him to put books back on the shelf. “There’s still serious interest in print books here,” he said. “New York is probably one of the major cities in this country that can actually support book stores.”
Unlike Kickstarter and Indiegogo, gofundme will let him access money as soon as it’s donated, so giving today could mean another section stocked tomorrow. In the past 24 hours it already raised $4,220 thanks to 90 people.