December 5, 2018
The Strand Bookstore doesn’t want City Landmark status
by Ryan Harrington
The great city of New York has approached one of its greatest assets–the Strand Bookstore, 91 years running and boasting 18 miles of books–about conferring City Landmark status on the biblio-paradise.
The Strand’s response?
Okay, that’s not how they put it. But as Corey Kilgannon reports for the New York Times, the store’s management is not exactly chuffed at the prospect.
Why would a business (especially a bookstore, which might just be the most vulnerable venture out there) not welcome the protection that comes from City Landmark status, you ask? Because that status comes with a bundle of restrictions about what type of remodeling can be done, what type of paint could be used in a facelift, etc.
In short, it could make it harder for the Strand to evolve alongside its rapidly evolving Union Square neighborhood.
Nancy Bass Wyden, who owns the business as well as the historic building it inhabits, is armed with a great point: If the city is bending over backwards to lure Amazon–the single greatest threat to our beloved physical bookstores–to New York, then perhaps they’re not really so interested in preserving the Strand. As she put:
“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.”
The story behind the landmarking debate is complicated at its very inception. The city currently hopes to designate 7 buildings in the neighborhood for preservation as a reaction to a massive multi-million dollar tech training center, which will likely trigger a wave of new development. So their heart may be in the right place. But, to some, the hunt for these 7 buildings (which have been hard to identify) is too little too late, as preservationists have called for landmarking as many as 200 buildings in the area.
A number of high profile writers have joined Wyden in the cause, just as activists and community groups have set their sites on the proposed Amazon HQ2.
Ryan Harrington is an editor at Melville House.