In 1920, Frances Steloff opened Gotham Art and Book Mart, a culturally strong and historically significant bookstore in New York City. The store itself had four different locations that attracted several generations of new writers and old readers, as well as artists and actors, until its close in 2006.
The bookstore’s original location was 128 West 45th Street, beside the Theater District: “It was a brownstone English basement, three steps down, which was set back between two remodeled buildings” (Steloff 749). The tiny, basement store was situated beside Claire’s Dress Shop, across the street from Lyceum Theater, and a couple of doors away from the Hudson Theater. Being located in such close vicinity of the Theater District meant the bookstore’s primary customers were actors, musicians, artists, and those involved in performances. Today, theaters on GBM’s old cross streets, only three blocks west of Time Square and Bryant Park, continue to thrive. Meanwhile, making home in the location of the “brownstone building” is now a hallow hole.
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As shown in the Google Map Street View, replacing the dress shop and practice theaters are Bobby Van’s Grill Steak House, a “premiere” restaurant advertised to be “steps off Broadway,” as well as a parking garage. In addition, across the street sits a large hotel and two Irish bars. The street that was once flooded with performers, now makes way for tourists who are able to experience the “growth and progress” of the big city via the building-size alley. Promoting tourism in the Theater District makes sense when trying to increase the city’s revenue. The graph below spotlights the revenue through in by Broadway productions since 2006.
This push toward making West 45th Street, as well as other locations in the Theater District, more tourist-friendly began directly after the closing of GBM’s original location. Directly after GBM moved out and before the demolition created the gap, the lot was occupied by Knickerbocker Hotel. Today, if you Google the location you are automatically brought to the address across the street, 129 West 45th Street, a hotel, instead of 127 West 45th Street which is currently a parking garage. Again, pushing tourism in the Theater District in order to increase revenue via the theater industry.
The third, much larger, location was within a renovated building addressed 41 West 47th Street. GBM’s door was street level directly in Manhattan’s Diamond District. Outside of the building was a small garden: “There GBM had a backyard with outside book stalls…it was open and spacious, with the… Building as a king of back-drop” (Morgan 743). Today, the narrow four story building sits two blocks from Rockefeller Center. Meanwhile, across the street and beside the building continues to be several diamond and jewelry stores. According to the New World Encyclopedia, 90% of all diamonds imported into the United States pass through New York City: “most of these are handled and cut in the city’s Diamond District.” While the Diamond District itself is one of the most expensive streets in the US, it also sits between Madison Avenue, known to be the location of multiple Fortune 500 companies, and 7th Avenue, nicknamed Fashion Avenue, due to its influence in the fashion industry.
Obviously, this location allows for easy-access to customers who work in these big- name companies, and have the money to spend on expensive products. According to the demographic summary of the Diamond District’s zip code (10036), 93.14% of Diamond District residents are white collar workers. More specifically than the cross-street itself, this address currently hosts a Middle Eastern, Kosher restaurant known for its “speedy service.” This reputation further emphasizes NYC’s “rushed” and “timely” business culture.
It’s easy to fall into the assumption that in order to have a place, there needs to be a physical appearance. That way, if a place had subjective purpose, those purposes could be attached to the structure:“…the material setting for social relations-the actual shape of place with which people conduct their lives as individuals… It is clear that places almost always have a concrete form… Places then, are material things” (Cresswell 7). Now, it’s evident that place actually describes people in an area and community culture, instead of simply a building and address. In this way, place is “a way of seeing, knowing, and understanding the world. When we look at the world as a world of places we see different things. We see attachments and connections between people and place” (11). Ultimately, place defines itself as a presence in the minds, memories, and histories of individuals who connected with it. For GBM, this translates to existence as a place for years to come.
Cresswell, Tim. Place: A Short Introduction. Malden, MA: Blackwell Pub, 2004. 7-15.
Morgan, Kathleen. “Frances Steloff and the Gotham Book Mart.” Journal of Modern Literature, Vol. 4, No. 4, Special Gotham Book Mart Issue: Indiana University Press, 1975. 740-745.
Steloff, Frances. “In Touch with Genius.” Journal of Modern Literature, Vol. 4, No. 4, Secial Gotham Book Mart Issue: Indiana University Press, 1975. 749-755.
“New York City.” New World Encyclopedia, . 21 May 2012. 9 Sep 2013. <http://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/p/index.php?title=New_York_City&oldid=961523>
Google Maps-128 West 45th Street street view
Google Maps- 41 W 47th Street street view