A Neighborhood Loses Its Bookstore

Supporters speak out as Book Culture's Columbus Ave. location is closed for unpaid rent

17 Jan 2020 | 03:37

A bookstore on the Upper West Side found itself in a hole it could not climb out of. After Book Culture fell more than $100,000 behind in rent, city marshals closed the store’s Columbus Ave. location last week. Owner Chris Doeblin hopes the situation is temporary. “Getting the doors open again at Columbus now is our main priority,” he wrote on Facebook.

Last Thursday afternoon, two days after the store was shuttered, Upper West Siders gathered to show their support. They pasted post-it notes on the store’s windows expressing their affection for the neighborhood bookstore and lingered on the sidewalk to reminiscence about the store. Messages on the post-it notes and interviews with locals painted the bookstore as a lifeblood of the neighborhood.

Julie Jacobs, who has lived on the Upper West Side for the past 30 years, held back tears speaking about Book Culture’s impending closure. “I remember when Book Culture opened it was this miraculous thing that an independent bookstore could survive,” she said. Jacobs added that in a city lined with impersonal stores, such as banks and drug stores, Book Culture enabled Upper West Siders to “feel more connected” to each other.

Jacobs said that her three children loved the mystery books program, through which customers would buy a book concealed in paper wrapping that staff recommended based on if they had enjoyed a different book.

According to Doeblin, at one point in 2019, the company, which operates two other stores on the Upper West Side and one in Long Island City, owed four months rent, more than $175,000, on the Columbus Ave. store, which is located between 81st and 82nd Sts. For a time, Doeblin explained on Facebook, the landlord "was gracious enough to show the forbearance that allowed us to stay open and make payments while we clawed our way back to viability."

Then, five days before Christmas, Doeblin said, he received an eviction notice. As of last week, according to Doeblin's Facebook post, Book Culture owed the landlord $140,000 rent for the Columbus Ave. store. "Without making this payment," Doeblin wrote, "we will not open again at Columbus and the bankruptcy of that entity could cause all of our stores to close..."

As Doeblin continues his search for "more investment, partnerships or access to capital" to reopen 450 Columbus Ave. and keep the company from going under, the store's local supporters describe a place that has been much more to them than just a business.

Adrienne Jenson said that Book Culture had something for the whole family. Standing outside of the bookstore with three of her children on Thursday, she beamed with excitement as she described items she had purchased there over the years. Jenson’s personal favorites included the store’s selection of candles and books on New York City history. Her kids loved the toys, which she noted encourage creativity, such as kits to make pottery and a robot. Jenson said that Book Culture has deterred her from moving out of her apartment, which is located just across the street.

Likewise, Ron Wasserman said that Book Culture was one of the reasons why he moved into his apartment around the corner. He fondly recalled a book he bought at the store on music and New York, what he described as two of his favorite things. “To still have a business like this survive means a lot, especially to us Upper West Siders,” Wasserman said. He explained Book Culture’s special place in the hearts of Upper West Siders. “We love culture.”

“I remember when Book Culture opened, it was this miraculous thing that an independent bookstore could survive.” - Upper West Sider Julie Jacobs