Actual book and record store demises and the NYC vs. L.I. quandary, and more (July 28th 2012)   Leave a comment

I’m hoping this blog doesn’t end up concentrating on the negative,

as that wasn’t my aim, but the main reason was to sound the alarm about

traditional brick and mortar stores being endangered, so wanted to mention

that as far as NYC is concerned, this situation really got going a few years back

when Coliseum Books closed its doors in midtown and shut its business down for good.

Coliseum was no Strand, but it was a great, neat, organized indie shop that was really superior to Barnes

and Noble in terms of pricing and stock and great remainder deals.  Actually I think the shrinking

bookstore market in the NY area, which is the only one I can really comment on with any authority,

started a long time before the early 1990s going back to the 1970s or early 1980s, when we used to have

competing major and even medium-sized book chains like Barnes and Noble, B. Dalton, Brentano’s,

Waldenbooks, Doubleday, Rizzoli, etc. and then later Borders all thriving and competing with each other.

That all changed in the later 1980s-1990s as most of the smaller chains got bought out

or couldn’t compete any longer with the larger ones.  Even the shopping mall stores started

to disappear and then we only had Barnes and Noble or Borders.   I recall when the Broadway Mall was

called Mid Island Plaza in Hicksville N.Y. and boasted at least three bookstores (and a kick-ass ice cream

shop which is also long gone) and now you’re lucky if the malls even have one Barnes and Noble, and

those are just the malls we’re talking about.  Also, Manhattan always boasted some great indie shops

and still does, but even by the late 1980s a lot of the better truly micro indie shops like Science Fiction

Shop, Fantasy Archives, and other smaller vendors started to disappear, and then Forbidden Planet

morphed into a glorified comics shop with some books but nothing like the vast array they used to stock,

plus all the zines and small press publications went out the window as well.   As for Brentano’s,

Doubleday and Scribner’s and such they were all relics, to some degree, of the 1960s and ‘70s, and most

were ok chains but couldn’t compete with the larger ones making inroads in the NY market and

especially were put down when Barnes and Noble and Borders expanded in a major way.  Other indie

mainstays like Gotham Book Mart lasted until the early 2000s and then succumbed to changing

ownership, demise of the owners, and/or realty and economic woes. There was even a time in NYC in

the 1970s to early 1980s when flagship chain like Doubleday actually kept rare book departments:

although one time when my dad and I visited the NY is Book Country outdoor Book Fair/trade show in

the early 1980s and visited the Doubleday flagship store, their rare book room’s prices were so

outrageously high it fairly made us wanna puke.  A copy of the Arkham House Tales of the Cthulhu

Mythos (1969) had to be at least $150, and that was in 1983 or so!  So I guess it was no great loss losing

some of those chains since there were no bargains to be found there, particularly with rare or

antiquarian books, but then again, most of those chains didn’t sell such things.

I remember being angry as hell and almost near tears as my likewise horrified dad looked on,

being offered that $150 copy of that Arkham House book by some uptight and snobby Doubleday

arsehole,  but when I see the even more outrageous prices being asked nowadays for things like this, I

almost get  wistful for this otherwise humiliating misadventure!  But then again, what to expect from a

publisher that pulped the first edition of J. G. Ballard’s The Atrocity Exhibition due to it having offended

the CEO’s dainty sensibilities, thus guaranteeing that the few extant copies, in future times, would

eventually be offered for sale for upwards of $16,000 so that no mere mortal could ever actually

purchase a copy.

     Bringing this situation to the present, then of course Borders went Chapter 11 last year

and shut all its stores for good, and even Barnes and Noble was rumored to be in trouble.

Its future as a brick and mortar retailer is still possibly shaky as I pen this.  Also, several of the stores

around the country I’ve bought from the past few months have web sites

saying they either went totally online and closed their brick and mortar operations, or were in the process

of reorganization.  I also called two different bookstores that I’d heard about in Astoria, Queens last week,

Astoria Books and Seaburn Books, and both had closed shop even within the past six months or less!  And that was

after consulting web sites for the shops that claimed they were either still in business, or maybe someone had already

posted that the former shop was already closed, I dunno, but the effect is that a lot of these stores are seemingly closing

faster than I could research them.  I also am being told by my friend Sam Gafford that Providence, RI has very bookstores left,

and even Boston, MA has seen most of its indie shops close their doors over the past couple of years, which is even more

distressing considering it’s Boston we’re talking about.  On other hand, it does seem like some specialty and indie shops are

doing well enough to keep their doors open, such as Forbidden Planet which I guess is eternally supported by legions of

comics fanatics, The Strand which appears to own their building and thus can afford to take the hits they must be taking from

the online e-commerce shift and the economy, and places like Cellar Stories in Providence which clearly still fulfill a niche that’s

rich enough to sustain them through horrible economic times and a changing book business model, but these are the exceptions.

 Somehow some small indie shops in NYC like East Village Books still keep thriving, if indeed they are, while other neighborhood

stalwarts like St. Marks Books are struggling just to afford the rent to be able to continue having a retail shop (and also having

battles with NYU as their landlords) and many others have already folded.  We’ve also lost a ton of great indie record shops in

Manhattan alone the past ten years or less, too many to even mention, but some key ones were Subterranean, Record Runner,

Second Coming, Bleecker Bob’s (ok, granted Bob’s sucked for years and was a tourist trap joke for almost 15 years, so no big loss there),

9-9, Sounds (although they may have reopened on St. Marks Place recently) Rebel Rebel, Pier Platters in Hoboken (many years ago now)

and of course Tower and Virgin Megastore, although some of the former ones folded long before the 1990s. Downtown Music Gallery which

used to be on Bowery and 2nd St. moved in 2010 to Chinatown because of rising rent issues and may or may not still be in business but it’s

by appointment only from what I’ve heard.  To sum this post up, this is not a good situation and it’s only getting worse and accelerating by

the day, especially the past several years. Where it’ll all end I don’t know, probably with me buying all my music, books and films online,

but I won’t be happy about it, that’s for sure.  And then the city and even LI will become one big Urban Outfitters Bistro. land and Walmart

world and we’ll have no arts or culture to call our own. And again, to be fair, Long Island was never much in the way of great bookstores:

the only great ones were Book Revue and Oscar’s in Huntington years ago, and now Huntington only has Book Revue and Oscar’s

closed  many years ago, and also they recently saw the closing of Soundtraks Records which used to be a great little indie rock and pop

record store that always thrived because it catered to a more discerning crowd than the major chains did, and now they succumbed

in 2011 to the changing market and economy and probably, rising rents, and closed their doors literally almost overnight one Fall

day last year.  There were supposedly some good stores out east on L.I. like the allegedly revered and venerable Canio’s Books in

Sag Harbor but I visited this shop a couple of years ago and it sucked, I mean, a quaint little shop but boasting nothing out of the

ordinary and NO rare or signed books that I could ascertain, and it was so cramped you could hardly browse the shop, which made

it even more irritating.   Canio’s might be good for poetry readings and wine and cheese schmoozing but not book buying!

That was RIGHT out, plus they stocked NO horror, fantasy or SF whatsoever, which makes me suspect the owners hate those

genres which makes me never wanna patronize the place anyway, on principle.  There was one other tiny bookstore in Sag Harbor

closer to the harbor area that had some art books and things but again, nothing special and the prices were rather steep on everything

in the shop.  Don’t get me wrong, Sag Harbor’s a gorgeous little town but it’s better for ogling summering models/celebs and getting a

good meal and enjoying the beach or boating, than book buying.  So, basically L.I. you can close the lid on except for Book Revue,

and that’s also not nearly as great as it once was in the 1980s-1990s, but at least it’s a decent shop.  The Nassau town of Sea Cliff

used to have a great indie shop, Sea Cliff Books, but they folded at least ten years ago when the owners decided a retail shop model

was no longer viable, and/or retired.  I used to know the owner, Charlie, rather and well and sometimes wheeled and dealed with him,

but he ultimately retired from the book business a couple of years ago.  There was also a cool little indie shop in Glen Cove run by

some nice old codger type guy, but the owner passed away, I was told, about five years ago and that ended that little shop whose

name I cannot recall, as well. Otherwise, even years ago I would have to eventually get on the train to NYC or drive out to NJ with my

dad to buy the real goods, or wait for a good convention with a dealer’s room, or go mail order like Robert Weinberg Books. But

what will I do in coming years when there’s nothing left in NYC or NJ even?  I’ll be going online and hitting the Purchase button

like the rest of da clowns, that’s what!   In my immediate current neck of the woods in Port Washington L.I., we have

exactly one bookstore, Dolphin Books, which is a nice little shop run by nice folks but it’s only good for new general list books,

and for kids books and stuff, and they have a café now, but good for naught else and no rare books or anything used etc.  Otherwise

I have to drive to Manhasset or Carle Place to find a decent Barnes and Noble shop, which is no substitute for the likes of

The Strand or old Passaic Book Center type shop that’s for sure.   And now I’m ending this depressing post before I start

to bawl and dampen my new Logitech keyboard!

 

 

 

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