“Retail diversity” is taking on a whole new meaning in the Lower East Side. Scrappy indie publishers Badlands Unlimited, launched in 2010, recently moved from a studio in Sunset Parks’ Industry City to a real five-person office on 24 Rutgers Street (ok, maybe that’s more Chinatown than LES). Hoping to integrate with their new surroundings, they struck up a partnership with the 99-cent store beneath their office and dubbed the experience “Y.oung P.ublisher 99¢ & Up.”
It’s not exactly your average “concept shop” bookstore situation. The place is a typical convenience store catering to the everyday needs of the neighborhood, filled with Dora the Explorer backpacks, brooms, hats on creepy mannequin heads, lotto tickets, and beauty products like “New Crystal” perfume and — no joke — “snail secretion filtrate moisture facial creme” (gonna cost you $30 for that privilege, though).
Now a shelf at the front also offers a selection of books from Badlands, like Hans Ulrich Obrist’s Think Like Clouds and The Best Most Useful Dress by Claudia La Rocco, as well as works from Badlands’ founder Paul Chan. Book prices range from $13-$25 and the husband-and-wife team who own the shop, Mr. and Mrs. Yu, get a cut of the proceeds.
Badlands is known for intricately designed ebooks (its website brags “one woman claimed we were destroying real books by making ebooks”), but it has never aspired to exist exclusively in the digital realm. This extension into storefront shopping is just another playful move from a company that relishes absurdism and irreverence.
“We’re trying to encourage everyone who reads Badlands books to also buy their necessary toiletries there,” said Micaela Durand, director of Badlands. “So, you know: toilet paper, and Marcel Duchamp books. New Lovers erotica series and Raid for cockroaches– all your essential needs.”
The range of writing on display could make awkward bedfellows with detergent and nail polish. I wondered what the Yu family and their regular customers must think of the new wares – what did they do when they accidentally grazed over How to Train a Virgin while searching for dishwasher soap?
“They didn’t like everything,” Paul Chan conceded. “Mr. Yu’s nephew seemed particularly upset with Duchamp’s ideas.” For now, the partnership rolls forward and will adjust as necessary. Expect Kuntalini by Tamara Faith Berger, a steamy novella about yoga and sex in the tradition of “Eat Ass, Pray, Love” to join the shelf in the spring.
The new office, above the shop, will function as something of a cross between a meeting place and a showroom of recent artwork, since many of Badlands Unlimited’s authors are also artists. Keep an eye on this space for talks and readings in the future.
Badlands Unlimited and Y.oung P.ublisher 99¢ & Up, 24 Rutgers Street, between Henry and Madison. Open 9:15 a.m. – 8:00 p.m.