THE BLOG

The Disappearing Act of New York

23/04/2014 13:30 BST | Updated 20/06/2014 10:59 BST

Cutthroat competition and surging rent prices have forced many New York's booksellers to abandon shop. For local bookstores, the price of rent has reached a level that has proven unsustainable. Despite residents who choose to buy their latest novel from a local bookstore instead of an online behemoth, continually increasing rent prices have outstripped any improvement to sales figures. Last week came the news that Shakespeare & Co. will be added to the growing list of bookstores that have to close shop this year. Under a wave of gentrification and ever increasing rent prices, the very face of New York is disappearing.

Shakespeare & Co. is not the first bookstore to succumb to the cost of New York rent prices, with the monthly rental price for the small Broadway location being pegged at over $50,000. Rizzoli Bookstore, a landmark on 57th St, was also forced to close despite its cultural and architectural history. As the New York Times recently uncovered, surviving bookstore owners are choosing to open shop in Brooklyn and Queens rather than face the anxieties of Manhattan real estate.

With the impending closure of Shakespeare & Co., we're saying goodbye to a friend of the NYU community. It is not the obligation of NYU to save the local bookstore. It's unlikely that even if Shakespeare & Co. reached a mutual agreement with the NYU Bookstore located just a few doors down that the additional revenue would offset the surge in rental prices.

So what can be done to keep bookstores from collapsing? Residents should press their local representatives to pass The Small Business Survival Act that would do much to protect local businesses from sudden hikes in rent prices. Moreover, bookstores must diversify and modernize to help bear the brunt of inevitably increasing rental prices. The Strand on Broadway has been notably successful in forging social media campaigns to engage with the local community for example.

As a society we have always held libraries as monuments and testaments to our collective knowledge. We should hold our bookstores in the same regard. The shops of the early immigrant population, stores that had family dynasties and were representative of their particular community, once etched the elusive character of New York. That New York has been slowly replaced by something shinier and less unique -- appealing to tourists seeking out the myth of the real New York.

Baristas have replaced booksellers; high-end fashion boutiques have supplanted bookstores. Institutions such as Shakespeare & Co. and Rizzoli once carved the New York which many still remember. Those remnants are slowly eroding under the weight of gentrification. If we wish to keep the version of New York with character and soul alive, Shakespeare & Co. should not be left to simply close.