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A Tale of Two Bookstores: New York City Subsidizes Amazon and Regulates the Strand



(p. A22) Since it opened in 1927, the Strand bookstore has managed to survive by beating back the many challenges -- soaring rents, book superstores, Amazon, e-books -- that have doomed scores of independent bookshops in Manhattan.

With its "18 Miles of Books" slogan, film appearances and celebrity customers, the bibliophile's haven has become a cultural landmark.

Now New York City wants to make it official by declaring the Strand's building, at the corner of Broadway and 12th Street in Greenwich Village, a city landmark.

There's only one problem: The Strand does not want the designation.

Nancy Bass Wyden, who owns the Strand and its building at 826 Broadway, said landmarking could deal a death blow to the business her family has owned for 91 years, one of the largest book stores in the world.

So at a public hearing on Tuesday before the city's Landmarks Preservation Commission, her plea will be simple, she said: "Do not destroy the Strand."

Like many building owners in New York, Ms. Wyden argues that the increased restrictions and regulations required of landmarked buildings can be cumbersome and drive up renovation and maintenance costs.

"By landmarking the Strand, you can also destroy a piece of New York history," she said. "We're operating on very thin margins here, and this would just cost us a lot more, with this landmarking, and be a lot more hassle."


. . .


Another rich twist, Ms. Wyden said, was that the move coincides with the announcement that Amazon -- not exactly beloved by brick-and-mortar booksellers -- plans to open a headquarters in Queens, after city and state leaders offered upwards of $2 billion in incentives to Amazon and its multibillionaire chief executive, Jeff Bezos.

"The richest man in America, who's a direct competitor, has just been handed $3 billion in subsidies. I'm not asking for money or a tax rebate," Ms. Wyden said. "Just leave me alone."


. . .


Owners of buildings with landmark status are in many cases barred from using plans, materials and even paint colors that vary from the original design without the commission's approval.


. . .


Ms. Wyden -- who is married to Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon, whom she met at the similarly renowned Powell's book store in Portland -- is a third-generation owner of the Strand, which stocks roughly 2.5 million used, rare and new books and employs 230 people.


. . .


While she would not divulge the bookstore's finances, she said that she could make more money renting out the Strand's five floors, but she loves the family business too much.

She accused city officials of trying to hurry the landmarking process, leaving her little time to prepare a defense, especially during the holiday rush.

"It's our busiest time of year, and we should be focused on customers and Christmas, which is where we make our most money," Ms. Wyden said. "But they have no sympathy for that."



For the full story, see:

Corey Kilgannon. "'Declaring Strand Bookstore a Landmark Would Kill It, Says Strand." The New York Times (Tuesday, Dec. 4, 2018): A22.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Dec. 3, 2018, and has the title "Declare the Strand Bookstore a City Landmark? No Thanks, the Strand Says." The online version says that the New York print edition appeared on p. A20 and had the title: "A Bid to Preserve Strand Bookstore Would Destroy It, Owner Says." The page and title in the citation I give further above, is from the National print edition that I receive.)






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