In the shrinking world of booksellers, James Patterson, the extremely popular author of over 100 books (most notably the Alex Cross series), is making a splash. Last week, he unveiled a plan to give grants to independent bookstores across the nation to promote childhood literacy. Two of the stores he selected include Morningside Heights’ Book Culture and Bank Street Bookstore, which are close to his Upper West Side home.
These two bookstores knew of the project long before its announcement and were even consulted for their opinions about Patterson’s plan.
“We heard about this back when they were originally starting to structure it,” Andy Laties, the manager of Bank Street Bookstore, said. “Last summer an associate of James Patterson contacted us. ... We were one of the ones he contacted to discuss the plans.”
Last week, Patterson announced his plan to give $1 million in grants. The plan has already been set in motion, with local and national bookstores applying with informal proposals for grants of up to $15,000 to go toward projects ranging from store repairs to restocking supplies and books.
“Our bookstores in America are at risk. Publishing and publishers as we’ve known them are at stake. To some extent, the future of American literature is at stake,” Patterson said in a recent New York Times piece.
Patterson’s approach is to confront the problem by inspiring the new generation to read.
“His intention is supporting bookstores encouraging kids to read,” Chris Doeblin, co-owner of Book Culture, said.
Book Culture plans to use its $5,000 grant to buy a new stock of books, as well as to increase programming for families in the coming spring. Doeblin believes that the program has potential to increase literacy outreach focused toward children.
“Everybody who received a grant has to ask themselves a couple of questions about how we can get more children into the stores,” Doeblin said. “Even though all of us ... already work to get children into the stores, it refocuses, revitalizes your efforts.”
Bank Street Bookstore hosts weekly events such as puppet shows and visits by children’s authors, and employees film the events for the store’s website using a 14-year-old camera. They plan to use the $5,000 check they recently received from Patterson to buy a new video camera and introduce video streaming technology to their website.
Bank Street, though not in real financial distress, is currently looking to move to a new location within a few blocks of its Morningside Heights home due to rising rent prices.
“The bookstore has been doing well, the impact of online business has leveled out,” Laties said. But he added that Bankstreet still has to move because “the rents here are going up much faster than business is.”