If things had gone as planned, the St. Mark’s Bookshop would’ve been closed for good by now. But the store has received a stay of execution and is still holding out, selling off its books at half-price while hoping for a miracle– or at least more investors to join the two who have already stepped up. Still, with new information surfacing about the plan for a St. Mark’s redux, it’s not looking good. Asked how long he thought the store had, owner Bob Contant guessed, “We might be here until the end of the month.”
The City Marshal had originally planned to auction off all of the bookshop’s assets this past Wednesday, but the deathblow has been inexplicably moved to next week. According to Contant, the Marshal “wouldn’t answer any questions” about the postponement. “Now it could be postponed again, I don’t know that. They don’t tell you.”
The auction is the result of a default judgement against St. Mark’s in a legal dispute with the book wholesaler Baker & Taylor (which boasts the title of “world’s largest distributor of books and entertainment”). According to James West, an attorney for the representing to Bookstore in its eviction case, the Marshal’s move to postpone the auction was extremely unusual, and was followed by “threatening phone calls” made to him, demanding “that my client would have to pay.”
At this point, the troubled but beloved bookshop has accumulated what James West estimated to be “about $100,000 in current, hard and fast debts” from money owed to creditors and rent owed to the New York City Housing Authority. (The next hearing in the eviction case is in March.)
“They’ve decided to play hardball,” West said of the distributors. “I think they’re just sending a message to all of their customers, ‘This is the way we’re going to do this now, and we’re going to clobber you.'”
West guessed that the Bookshop’s clearance sale had ruffled some feathers. “Whether or not they’re supposed to do that is another question,” West admitted of the shop’s effort to clear out its stock ahead of the auction.
As of today, the bookstore’s already dwindling stock was “extremely depleted” by the clearance sale, Constant told us. In fact, West doesn’t even think there will be an auction next week. “The books are going to be gone by then,” he said, adding that even if there is an auction, “the books aren’t worth anything.”
Before Bedford + Bowery broke news of the store’s most recent woes, things were looking hopeful in light of an Awl story published last week reporting that an investor had raised $200,000 to keep the store afloat.
Rafay Khalid, the investor in question, now tells us he was misquoted and that number is incorrect. “I prefer not to disclose the original fundraising amount. My goal right now is to raise $200,000– that’s where the misprint is,” he explained. “There’s a huge difference.”
Khalid, who lives in Brooklyn, got involved in the effort early on because he “loves books” and St. Mark’s happens to be his “favorite” bookstore. “I was the one putting the energy and effort into transitioning from the old store on 3rd Avenue to the new store on 3rd Street,” he explained. “So people wonder, how did they do that, Bob and Terry? All that money, time, and effort, that was me. I work in finance, so I don’t want to bring attention to myself, so I took care of it behind the scenes and got things done.” Khalid added later in an email: “I have to acknowledge the employees for going above and beyond to help move the store and keep it going day after day.”
The fact that Khalid has yet to raise the $200,000 paints an entirely different picture. If he and Charles FitzGerald– one of the bookshop’s former landlords who swooped in to help bring the store’s stock back up following the 2014 move– are able to recruit investors to contribute the target amount, then the St. Mark’s reboot will be “a new corporation with new investors, so there is no outstanding debt,” Khalid explained. As for the timeline? “As soon as we can raise money. No money, no plan– that’s it.”
The new owners, of course, will determine how things are run. “It’s up to the new investors, they have the ultimate say in this because they’re putting in new money, it’s a new company,” Khalid explained. “My and Charles goal is to continue the legacy of St. Mark’s Bookshop as part of the fabric of the community.”
But as Bob Contant informed us, “there’s an interest in having a bookstore replace us, but there has to be more than one person involved, and so far no one has stepped up.”