Bank Street Bookstore, a Morningside Heights children's bookstore that has catered to neighborhood children, parents, and teachers for over 20 years, can no longer afford to remain in the same storefront.
The Bank Street College Board of Trustees, which operates the bookstore, decided at its Oct. 24 meeting not to renew the lease for its current two-story storefront on 112th and Broadway, which expires at the end of February 2015, due to ongoing revenue losses and increasing rents.
“This has been a difficult decision for the board of trustees to make,” Frank Nuara, the college's chief operating officer, said. “Quite a bit of thought went into this decision.”
Bank Street College President Elizabeth Dickey said in a monthly email to the Bank Street community that a subcommittee of four trustees had spearheaded an effort two years ago to figure out what to do when the lease expired. Andy Laties, the current bookstore manager, was hired in March 2012 when the previous manager retired, and subsequently made several efforts to increase sales, according to the letter.
Still, revenue has declined 7 percent over the last decade, rent has grown by 56 percent, and operating losses have increased. Additionally, the landlord's agent warned that rent could increase by at least 10 percent under a new lease and could escalate even further over its 15-year duration.
“The trustee committee has recommended, with both sadness and deep concern for sustaining the College's commitment to high quality children's literature, that the College decline to renew the lease on the current Bookstore location,” the letter states. “The committee has also recommended that we continue to explore other possible locations in the general area as well as e-commerce models should there be no suitable and affordable space available.”
Nuara has been leading this search for an alternative storefront space between 96th and 112th streets that could hold the floor-to-ceiling shelves of children's books, toys, games, and educational materials.
“It's a bit frustrating because not much is available,” Nuara said.“We have a pretty steady customer base, and that continues. But we're just getting less sales.”
At a Christmas-themed storytelling and puppet show event Saturday afternoon, a group of small children and parents gathered before a pop-up theater in the store's upper floor. They giggled through a program that included a rendition of “Chicken Little,” a reading of “Santa Claus: All About Me,” and a twist on “Goldilocks and the Three Bears”—in which a mischievous “Monkeylocks” appropriates three Santas' tea and cookies while they are out on a walk.
“It's really close to my house,” said Estefania De Sousa, TC '15, who brought her daughters to the store for the event. “It's really hard to keep them focused because there is a lot of variety.”
She added that the store usually seemed “comfortable-busy.”
“This is perfect for me,” De Sousa said, though she added that a different location nearby wouldn't be too inconvenient.
Kristen McCallum, a Washington Heights resident, had brought her three-year-old niece, Tristyn Bruno, to the Christmas storytelling.
“A lot of people don't want to commute” on the train with their children, McCallum said, suggesting that a new location could be inconvenient for most customers.
Parent Claire Riccardi, TC '97, agreed that the bookstore in its current space was an important neighborhood fixture—and a citywide destination for students, parents, and teachers.
“It is more than just a resource for families,” Riccardi, a former teacher who has used the bookstore since college, said. She added that staff members are experienced and “help me in a million ways.”
Jim Kilkenny, a Morningside Heights resident who attended the storytelling with his three-year-old daughter, said his daughter had frequently come to Bank Street events before she started school.
“Hopefully they can relocate close by,” Kilkenny said.
Riccardi said the bookstore had significance not only for the neighborhood, but also for the city as a whole.
“It's really a New York institution,” Riccardi added. “It's the face of the college.”
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