BY AIDAN GARDINER | St. Mark’s Bookshop has sat at its corner on Third Avenue and E. Ninth St. for the past 20 years as a bazaar of unique literature and bold art books that has seen the neighborhood around it shift from a haven of oddity to a hub of development.
But the store’s sales have slumped in recent years, and rent increased creating such an untenable financial situation that even with some leeway from the store’s landlord, The Cooper Union, its co-owners are now looking to move.
The beloved shop has been struggling for years. Sales dropped nearly 35 percent between 2008 and 2011. Then the store’s rent increased as well last year to $20,000 per month. Co-owners Terry McCoy and Bob Contant cut their staff and began drawing on their Social Security just to keep the bookshop afloat.
They lobbied Cooper Union for a rent reduction, but the college could only afford to decrease their rate to $17,500 for one year, at the end of which it would revert to $20,000 and even increase in 2013, per their lease.
“It’s been a tough year and we’ve been doing the best we can to keep everything going,” McCoy said. “But we’ve come to the conclusion that we won’t be able to pay rent when these increases come into effect.”
The store’s sales spiked roughly 20 percent last year when interest about its struggles surged, but McCoy said that increase has mostly disappeared in recent months.
He also said they have increased the bookshop’s online presence and hosted more in-store events, but while successful, these still haven’t been enough.
So now, McCoy and Contant are looking to move to a smaller and cheaper space. The bookshop currently occupies 2,700 square feet of retail space along with an office and basement. McCoy said they’re looking for someplace that’s ideally 2,000 square feet, or even smaller, with a proportionally lower rent to match.
“That would be a significant reduction in space,” McCoy said. “We’d have to be pretty creative in working with that.”
But McCoy said plans and goals for a move are still only in the preliminary stages and subject to change.
The act of relocating is also extremely costly, making it tough on a struggling bookstore, so McCoy said he and his partner plan to begin raising money soon and possibly partnering with an organization that specializes with grassroots fundraising.
While many aspects of the potential move are still up in the air, McCoy said he is determined to keep the bookshop in the East Village, the neighborhood it’s called home since its founding in the 1970s.
This would be the second move for St. Mark’s Bookshop if it does end up happening. It originally was located on the street for which it’s named before Cooper Union offered to house it around the corner in 1990.
All throughout, McCoy said, St. Mark’s Bookshop was meant to embody the aesthetic and culture of the neighborhood around it.
“This store’s whole identity is linked to the East Village,” he said. “We can’t go anywhere else. It’s our reason for being.”