In my last two musings, I introduced you to a fascinating bookstore in the Upper East Side of Manhattan called the Madison Avenue Bookshop. It started with their window dressing featuring the big wooden man and last week I introduced you to the owners, staff and customers. In December 2002, the bookstore turned off its lights for the last time. Again, much of the following information and stories comes from an article in the Observer, New York, by Alexandra Wolfe, December 23, 2002.
As you could tell from the last musing, this shop had a very strong relationship with the upscale, quirky customers who inhabit this section of New York City. But according to the book store’s current owner, Perry Haberman, the store had become unprofitable, and while he had grown more disenchanted with the publishing industry, he also sensed that fewer and fewer Upper East Side residents were interested in establishing an enduring relationship with their local book store. Madison Avenue had become the area for designer clothes and, indeed, Mr. Haberman said he planned to lease the building to a high-end “Gucci-esque” type of retailer.
But some residents are ruing the loss.
“The city has become less personalized”, said the author and East Side resident Gay Talese. Of the Madison Avenue Bookshop closing, Mr. Talese said: “I can and I can’t believe it of course.” He remembered once trying to track down a book on trees. “I called up the Madison Avenue Bookshop and said “could you send it to Nan Talese” and they had it. The next day it was gift wrapped. It’s a sad day.”
The author John Gregory Dunne and his wife, also an author, Joan Didion, both lamented the impending loss of what at times has served as the neighbourhood water cooler. “It’s a magnet,” said Mr. Dunne. “You go in there, and you run into friends all the time.”
Louis Auchincloss, the aging chronicler of the patrician upper class, said the absence of the store will leave a void on Madison Avenue. “I’m terribly sad to see it go,” he said. “The caring young people who wait on you are always so interesting and helpful. And you always felt they were more interested in having you read a book, rather than sell you one.”
Mr. Haberman said he’d been thinking about closing Madison Avenue Bookshop since Sept. 11, 2001. “There was something in the back of my mind thinking, “How is this going to affect the bookstore, business-wise?” And his hunch turned out to be correct.
For the first 20 years of its life, the bookshop derived a large chunk of its revenue from customers who ordered books in bulk to send out as gifts. “We used to have many customers who did their holiday shopping here. This time of year, we usual have 10 stacks of orders to process. This year we have two,” said Mr. Haberman.
He continues – “I will always believe that there will be a group of people who prefer to come in and hold a book in their hands and feel it and talk to you about it, and get your recommendation on something. That the real tangible, tactile feeling of holding it in your hands will always exist, at least in my lifetime – versus going on the internet and clicking on a book and having it sent to you. And because of that, I feel there will always be some sort of need for bookstores.”