Taking over half a city block and with over three and half floors and two point five million books in the store (in addition to another quarter million books in a warehouse in Brooklyn), Strand’s slogan of “18 miles of books” sounds less like hyperbole and more a statement of fact. Founded almost 80 years ago in 1927, Strand Bookstore has become a landmark of East Village even as it sits at the intersection of every major neighborhood in New York City. South of Union Square, north of New York University and Cooper Union, west of the Lower East Side, and east of (you guessed it) West Village, Strand’s success is evident when you take into account that the whole bookstore has 240 employees, more than some chain businesses.
Originally situated on Fourth Avenue or “Book Row” as it was known, Fred Bass moved Strand to its current location in the heartland of New Yorker culture. After the Beats made East Village their home, it has since attracted a certain amount of artists, musicians, and other counter-culture figures, and while some of those landmarks are gone, i.e. CGBG, the East Village is a place that takes pride in its culture.
But wherever there is a “quaint” little neighborhood or town, there are always people willing to buy into that culture without living it. What I mean of course is gentrification. New, wealthy people move to a place that unique and different, but end up homogenizing that place as a result of larger business moving in as well to capitalize on that new money. Or, one of these “yuppies” might end up buying a historic building and tearing it down to build a mansion as David Schwimmer did in 2012 (not cool, Ross.) As one local resident put it, “All the new people are yuppie transients. If I see David Schwimmer on the street, I’ll be sure to give him my two cents!” But it’s not just celebrities moving in, it’s the college educated. Around forty percent of East Village’s residents have a bachelor’s degree minimum. Simultaneously almost thirty percent of people in the East Village haven’t graduated high school. And with a median income in 2011 of $65,000, the neighborhood is attracting more money than NYC as whole with the median income in the city being only $49,000. Additionally, thirty-five percent of East Villagers are from outside of New York State, compared with NYC overall’s ten percent of people from out-of-state.
Has the Village really been gentrified though? On the map you can see that places like Starbucks and Dunkin Donuts are only a few blocks away from small cafes like The Bean. Within three blocks of each other is a Chipotle and Hotel Tortuga, a vegetarian Mexican restaurant. On the same city block as the Strand is a Forbidden Planet comic store, one of the largest comic book chains in the world. The conflict of gentrification is very real in the East Village and how long before another bookstore tries to muscle in on its territory?
But what does this mean for the Strand? Surely a wealthy, educated yuppie population would be good for any business right? Perhaps, but that depends on what you want out of any neighborhood. Strand might get more business, but they could end up being like any other chain bookstore. If the people surrounding Strand don’t see it as a ‘place’ of pride but rather as just another bookstore, something is lost.
As Cresswell says about place, “When we look at the world as world of places we see different things. We see worlds of meaning and experience. Sometimes this way of seeing can seem to be an act of resistance against a rationalization of the world, a way of seeing that has more space than place. To think of an area of the world as a rich and complicated interplay of people and the environment.” The Strand’s popularity may be self-sustaining because so many non-New Yorkers know about it and visit it because it’s “the Strand” but then it only becomes something distant to the locals. Why should the locals be invested if the Strand doesn’t make a stand on the gentrification of the East Village? If the Strand makes to be a ‘place’ in the neighborhood, it has to give something back to the Village.
Google Maps: 828 Broadway Street
Google Streetview: Strand Bookstore
James and Karla Murray: <http://2.bp.blogspot.com/-Utk5rgonVnA/UzAk9emWzCI/AAAAAAAAXG8/bPclgST6iv8/s1600/MCHALESThen&Now.jpg>
Cresswell, Tim. “Defining Place.” Place: A Short Introduction. Wiley-Blackwell, 2004. Book