Gotham Book Mart: A Diamond in the Rough

The Gotham Book Mart had several locations during the 87 years that it was open, but the location that it called ‘home’ longest, and the one that is remembered most by literati, was located at 41 W. 47th St in Manhattan, NY. This blog post will focus specifically on the present people and place near this location due to its overwhelming importance in the history of Gotham Book Mart.

(Streetview map of 41 W 47th St is intended to go here, still unable to embed)

The address of 41 47th St. is located in the heart of midtown Manhattan, crammed between countless upscale retailers and chain stores, as well as a stones throw from many iconic cultural landmarks. Currently, there are two stores occupying  the former address of Gotham Book Mart: Ralph’s Diamonds, a jewelry resale shop, and Taam-Tov, a kosher restaurant. By gaining a better understanding the area that surrounded Gotham Book Mart, we can better understand Gotham Book Mart itself and speculate some of the possible causes for it closing down.

Midtown Manhattan is a densely populated area in the middle of New York City. The exact shape and size of Midtown is not always consistent depending on the source–sometimes, for example, portions of Koreatown or the Garment District are included in Midtown. In the map below, Midtown  appears as a large rectangle and a small rectangle connected by a narrow set of blocks between 5th Ave and Madison Ave. According to this map, no part of Midtown borders a body of water.

https://mapsengine.google.com/map/edit?gl=us&mid=zLtjLvpSJhTE.kAmvpW4gU6Zo

There is an estimated population of 166,301 in Midtown, split 51% male and 49% female; there are roughly 100,500 households in Midtown, with 71.8% being family households and and 28.2% being non-family households. The 71.8% figure, however, may be somewhat misleading: out of the 72,163 family households in Midtown, only 8,933 of them (or 12.4%) have children. These statistics may shed light onto the spending habits of Midtown’s residents. Money goes toward different purchases depending on if an individual is single or the head of a family. Additionally, whether or  not the family has kids will determine the priorities of the heads of the household–priorities in the sense of recreational and financial interests.

http://www.point2homes.com/US/Neighborhood/NY/Manhattan/Midtown-Manhattan-Demographics.html

(See Midtown population statistics and graph)

The average household income for Midtown is $163,000, and the median income is $96,000. Compared to the national median household income ($52,672), the figure for Midtown is significantly higher. Additionally, the highest earners, by age, are between 25 and 54 years old. This indicates that Midtown is a wealthy neighborhood, but it’s important to understand the context of this wealth. It would be easy to assume that there is an excessive amount of cash-0n-hand for individuals to spend on non-essentials–such as cars, electronics, computers, furniture, and, yes, books–but this may be misguided. The cost of living in Midtown Manhattan is significantly greater than in other parts of the country; one estimate states that the average annual  household expenditures are around $100,000. Additionally, taxes in NYC are higher than most of the rest of the nation–for example, the sales tax is 9%.

http://www.point2homes.com/US/Neighborhood/NY/Manhattan/Midtown-Manhattan-Demographics.html

(See Midtown income statistics and graph)

The specific neighborhood where 41 W. 47th St. is located is called the Diamond District. The Diamond District is the area around 47th St. between 5th and 6th Ave. The Diamond District got its name for being the location that many European diamond traders settled during World War II (many of whom were Jewish), which made Midtown (and NYC generally) a hub of diamond trading. Today, an estimated 90% of diamonds in the U.S. enter through NYC.

As the name of the neighborhood indicates, the area immediately surrounding the former location of the Gotham Book Mart is heavily marked by diamond and jewelry retailers. There are twenty-three diamond and jewelry retailers on 47th St between 5th and 6th Ave alone. These stores range from high-end jewelry retailers, such as Peter J. Germano Inc., and pawn-style jewelry re-sellers, such as We Buy Gold  NYC. Other businesses in the vicinity of 41 W 47th St include restaurants, such as El Rincon Del Sabor and McDonald’s. The former site of Gotham Book Mart is also near several high-profile cultural landmarks: one block from Rockefeller Center, three blocks from Radio City Hall and St. Patrick’s Cathedral, and one block from the Broadway Theater District. Being in such close vicinity to cultural landmarks of this caliber would likely heighten foot traffic and exposure for businesses.

https://mapsengine.google.com/map/edit?gl=us&mid=zLtjLvpSJhTE.knPe0bc5wJiE

In a certain way, the place and people surrounding the site of the former Gotham Book Mart on W 47th St would seem to allow for a business, especially one that sells a “non-essential” commodity, to thrive. Additionally, with important cultural landmarks in the vicinity, it’s reasonable to assume that residents–or visitors to the area–have an interest in culture and art, and therefore would be drawn to the bookstore. Gotham Book Mart, however, failed, and some speculation based on the place and people may help us understand why. The culture of the surrounding area, for example, may be one that values material items that display one’s wealth or luxurious lifestyle. As Raymond Williams discusses in his work Marxism and Literature, books in the 18th and 19th century were emblems of status of the bourgeoisie; in the 21st century, however, books do not have the same association with upper-class status. The flaunting of wealth is a stereotype that tends to be associated with Midtown, and this assumption is given concrete support based on the thriving diamond and jewelry businesses that surround the site of the former Gotham Book Mart. In the world of fluid global capital, according to Cresswell, “places compete to get a share of the mobile capital,” encouraging people to “invest in [in a place’s] particular form of fixity.”  Since Gotham Book Mart had to move from its location on W 47th St just prior to it closing for good, we may assume that the people in the surrounding area were not interested in preserving the bookstore’s fixed place.

 

Citations

http://www.point2homes.com/US/Neighborhood/NY/Manhattan/Midtown-Manhattan-Demographics.html. Midtown Manhattan Demographics. Web. 10 Sept. 2013.

 

Williams, Raymond. Marxism and Literature. Oxford Eng.: Oxford UP, 1977. Print.

 

Cresswell, Tim. Place: A Short Introduction. Malden, MA: Blackwell Pub., 2004. Print.