Gotham Book Mart – Present: Place and People
Gotham Book Mart is no longer in operation, having closed in 2007, but its latest location was at 16 East 46th Street in the Midtown area of Manhattan in New York City. Today, that address houses the Gotham City Hotel, which shares the street with restaurants such as Food World, Qdoba Mexican Grill, Dunkin’ Donuts, and ‘Wichcraft. Other businesses on 46th Street include a Build A Bear, a Barnes & Noble, two men’s clothing stores, as well as the Colombian Consulate. Before Gotham Book Mart moved to 16 East 46th Street, there was H.P. Kraus, a well-known rare books store that closed in 2003, in that location.
Gotham Book Mart was only in that location for two years, though, right before it closed. The majority of the store’s time was spent at 41 West 47th Street, in a townhouse at the heart of Manhattan’s Diamond District. With the exception of the restaurant Taam-Tov, the Russian Kosher restaurant that is presently on the third floor of Gotham Book Mart’s old location, the street is almost exclusively jewelry stores, gold buying stores, or high-end fashion boutiques. Because Gotham Book Mart spent the majority of its time at this location (from 1964 to 2004), I’m going to focus on this neighborhood, instead of its latest location.
According to the 2010 census done by the United States Census Bureau, the Diamond District is predominately White and Asian. Compared to this neighborhood, Manhattan as a whole, though still mostly White, has a much greater percentage of Blacks and Hispanics. Considering the income chart below, provided by City-Data.com, those with the highest incomes in Manhattan are Whites and Asians, and the population statistics for the Diamond District seem to back this up. The Diamond District is full of expensive jewelry stores, so only those with the highest incomes can really afford to shop there. The area is almost entirely made up of businesses, with very few residential areas. The same 2010 census documented only 155 people living in that area of Manhattan, which, in a city with a population of over 1.5 million, is practically nothing.
In accordance with the rest of the street’s abundance of jewelry stores, the bottom floor of 41 West 47th Street is now Ralph’s Diamonds & Jewelry, while the top floor houses Taam-Tov, a restaurant. At street level, the side of the street that Gotham Book Mart was on, is exclusively jewelry stores and gold exchanges, with apartments on the upper levels of most buildings. Some specific companies are Salvatore & Co. Diamonds, Zoland Diamond & Jewelry Exchange, and Diamond Center. On the other side of the street, there are more jewelry and gold exchanges and stores, like Roman Jewelers, Jewel Mall, and Futurama Diamond Exchange. The only business on street level that is not a jewelry store or exchange is Valley National Bank, and, like the other buildings, there are apartments on the upper levels.
Gotham Book Mart’s old location, 41 West 47th Street, New York, New York
Salvatore and Co. Diamonds down the street from Gotham Book MartView Larger Map Valley National Bank and Futurama Diamond Exchange across the street
Being in the Diamond District, Gotham Book Mart’s primary clientele likely would have been the upper class and the elite, so Raymond William’s saying that “Literature” and what is thought of as literature is a social construct fits here. Gotham Book Mart specialized in rare and valuable books, or “Literature”. It also brings to mind Laura Miller’s criticism of the elitist nature of independent bookstores, because of the kind of customers that would have frequented the Diamond District and subsequently Gotham Book Mart. Part of what makes a place special is the people in that place. And Gotham Book Mart attracted quite a few famous authors and other celebrities, such as Charlie Chaplin, E.E. Cummings, Ezra Pound, and J.D. Salinger, which furthered the high-culture image of the store.
Pie charts made from <http://projects.nytimes.com/census/2010/map>
Median income graph: <http://www.city-data.com/income/income-Manhattan-New-York.html>
Google Maps: 41 West 47th Street, 61 West 47th Street, 67 West 47 Street
Williams, Raymond. Marxism and Literature. 1977
Miller, Laura J. Reluctant Capitalists: Bookselling and the Culture of Consumption. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2006.
Cresswell, Tim. Place: A Short Introduction. Malden, MA: Blackwell Pub, 2004.