Gotham Book Mart in the Diamond District
The Diamond District glitters with show windows cluttered with fine jewelry, store after store crammed into a competitive rat race for the attention of the Manhattan public that flocks the sidewalks. Salesmen with signs clog the streets, yelling for anyone who will listen about the deals to be had inside. Located on West 47th Street between Fifth Avenue and the Avenue of the Americas, this district is close to many well known cultural centers such as Rockefeller Center, Radio City Music Hall, and the Broadway Theater District. The block is a bustling center of jewelry sales, housing glorified pawn shops and high-brow boutiques, part of a larger global industry and the center of New York City jewelry sales. Over 4,100 business crowd the block, employing 22,000 and bringing in $24 billion a year. The huge volume of stores pushes prices down, making the Diamond District a valuable resource for cheaper jewelry.
This is a primarily Jewish neighborhood, starting with the influx of Jews involved in the diamond industry who immigrated during World War Two. Many of the stores, small and large, are still operated by Jewish owners. Around 95% of those involved in the jewelry industry on 47th street are Jewish today, many Hasidic or Orthodox Jews. The Diamond Dealers Club (DDC), even has its own synagogue and kosher luncheonette. The Jewish jewelers are known to be honest and have a strong belief in tradition, which is seen in their treatment of customers and craftsmanship. Many Jewish businesses are family-run, such as the one that Fanny Steloff opened in 1920. Yet her business was different, in that she focused on selling not jewelry but books.
Fanny’s little store, Gotham Book Mart, first opened in the Theater district a few blocks away before moving into the Diamond District in 1946. The jewelry industry had just begun to move uptown from the financial district at this point, beginning in 1941, and the bookstore was anomaly on a street dominated by jewelry stores and exchanges. It was on this street that the bookstore stayed its longest as a center of literature and culture amidst the sea of capitalism.
Today, the jewelry stores have filled in the cracks where the little store once pushed through. Gotham Book Mart switched locations in 2004, moving to 46th street, before ultimately going out of business in 2007. The ground floor is now occupied by numerous jewelers stationed in booths, quite a difference from the atmosphere of a bookstore. A Jewish kosher restaurant called Taam-Tov is located on the top floor, drawing customers from among those both buying and selling jewelry in the street, as the bookstore might have in the past.
Between the jewelers hawking their wares and the traditional Jewish families working at booths and exchanges all along the street, it’s hard to believe that a bookstore even existed here for so long. After spending fifty-eight years among the glitter of the jewelry stores on 47th Street, any hint that Gotham Book Mart was ever there has long disappeared in the way that many things in New York City do. The landscape of the city will always continue to change, challenging the values and atmosphere of the people and the street where the famous bookstore once stood.
Diamond District Home Page. <http://www.diamonddistrict.org/>
Crain’s New York Business, “Diamond District is a $24B gem, boosters say” <a href=”http://www.crainsnewyork.com/article/20110801/SMALLBIZ/110809992>
Business Insider, “How Business Gets Done in New York’s Cutthroat Diamond District” <http://www.businessinsider.com/diamond-district-new-york-2011-10?op=1>
Cochise College, Student Papers in Geology, “47th Street, New York: The Jewish Connection” <http://skywalker.cochise.edu/wellerr/students/jewelry/project.htm>
Pratt Center, “The Perfect Setting: Economic Impact of the Diamond and Jewelry Industry in New York City” <http://prattcenter.net/sites/default/files/publications/diamondstudy_revised.pdf>
Diamond District photos by Eric Goldschein for Business Insider
Google Maps: 41 W 47th Street and Diamond District aerial view
Gotham Book Mart sign photo by Chris Silver Smith