Gotham Book Mart- Present, Place and People


Gotham Book Mart Original Location
The original location of Gotham Book Mart, also referred to as GBM, was a small basement space on 128 West 45th Street near the theater district in New York City, New York. It was originally called Gotham Art and Book Mart. The space for the store was on the right side of the street, Hudson Theater was a couple of doors away, Lyceum Theater was across the next street, and next door to the original shop was Claire’s dress shop.
In the shop, it is said by the owner that “only the west wall of the room had shelves-that was all I could afford. On the opposite side, next to the fireplace, was a bookcase which I had brought from my own apartment, and there was a rather long table spread with books” (Steloff 755). Eventually, Gotham Book Mart outgrew the space that it was housed in, and moved to its second location. This was the first of three moves for Gotham Book Mart. In its history, Gotham Book Mart was housed in four locations.


Main Location
The main location of Gotham Book Mart was in the Diamond District in Manhattan, 41 West 47th Street. The new location was on street level, whereas the original location was in the basement, and the building was bought from Columbia University in 1946. According to the owner, “the new location didn’t have a single modern building on the block. In fact, this one and only a few others had been remodeled for business. Some houses still had lawns in front and garden furniture. GBM had been doing most of its business evenings and kept open until midnight. But it was certain that there would be no evening business here” (Steloff 763). It is said that “for the next 23 years, this was the site where the avant garde congregated, talked, borrowed money, and enjoyed seeing their works displayed, and in the center of all this was Frances Steloff, fussing and crabbing with her stuff, friendly and open-handed with her customers-devoted to the writers and artists who frequented her shop” (Morgan 740). In this location, “GBM had a backyard with outside book stalls…it was open and spacious, with the RCA Building as a king of back-drop” (Morgan 743).


View Gotham Book Mart’s Second Location in a larger map

Gotham Book Mart Demographics
In Manhattan, White Americans make up about 60% of the population. Whites of non-Hispanic origin form a slight majority. About 15% of the population is made up of Black Americans. One of the smallest minority groups in Manhattan are of Native American descent, about 0.1% of the population. The age range with the highest amount of people is from 25-44, with the median age being 36. The average household income in the county is around $47,000 and the average family income was around $50,000. From the 1920s until now the population has moved from 2,284,103 to 1,585,873 people living in Manhattan.


GBM Clientele
In the first location, it is said that “because her customers were interested in costume, design, and art books, GBM became famous for its ability to provide hard-to-get and often expensive books on theater and art from Europe and for being able to ship anywhere, anytime” (Morgan 740). Many of the customers who frequented Gotham Book Mart were casts of theater productions in the immediate area. “Most of the cast soon discovered the little Gotham Book Mart, and they would come over in the evening after the performance-this was how I came to keep the shop open until midnight” (Steloff 753). The owner’s business decision of keeping her shop open until midnight reflects Laura J. Miller’s writings of Barnes & Noble’s statement that “store ambiance [is] designed to treat customers like house guests in a relaxed, yet exciting environment” (Miller 94). The owner of Gotham Book Mart decided to treat her shop like a house for her customers and designed the hours of the store to meet her customers’ needs.


Gotham Book Mart’s Destiny
“Miss Steloff continually asserts that there was no planning, no overview guiding Gotham Book Mart’s destiny. Rather it was one thing leading to another, with her merely there acting much like a catalyst for what happened. As she helped her friends, they returned in kind. She stressed the communal aspect of the shop, how all gave to each other…one of her closest friends, helped make GBM a literary hang-out because she allowed him and his friends…to eat their lunch in her garden” (Morgan 744). The fact that she loved the communal aspect of her career, reflects what Miller says, that “stressing their local ties and contributions to the common good, the independents began to describe the bookstore as not simply a place in which to purchase books, but as a community center that provides meaningful services and enjoyable diversions” (Miller 115).

Owner sitting with unidentified man.

Owner sitting with unidentified man.

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

Miller, Laura J. Reluctant Capitalists: Bookselling and the Culture of Consumption. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2006.

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, Special Gotham Book Mart Issue: Indiana University Press, 1975. 749-755.