St. Mark's Bookshop

Coordinates: 40°43′26″N 73°59′09″W / 40.72379°N 73.98585°W / 40.72379; -73.98585
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The front window of St Marks Bookshop, in New York City
Its neon sign

St. Mark's Bookshop was an independent book store, established in 1977 in New York City's East Village neighborhood. It was the oldest independent bookstore in Manhattan owned by its original owners. The shop, run by proprietors Bob Contant and Terry McCoy, specialized in cultural and critical theory, graphic design, poetry, small presses, and film studies—what the New York Times called "neighborhood-appropriate literature".[1] It featured a curated selection of fiction, periodicals and journals, including foreign titles, and included unusual-for-bookstores sections on belles-lettres, anarchists, art criticism, women's studies, music, drama, and drugs.[2]

The store, named after St. Mark's Place, its original location,[3] closed on February 28, 2016, due to rising rent[4] and mismanagement.[2]


The Third Avenue location featured small press poetry books, among others, in the front and had a table with expensive art books and an information desk in the back. There was also an "X case," a section of selections next to the information desk where the books that were stolen the most were kept, works by Charles Bukowski and William Burroughs,[2] and, at one point, a consignment section.


Its first location was at 13 St. Marks Place. This space had a mezzanine level that ran along the shop's right side. The owners were wooed away from this location to below a Cooper Union dormitory on Third Avenue and Stuyvesant Street[5] by the then-vice president of Cooper Union for lower rent. (The point of the lure was the development of the Green Building on the east side of Third Avenue between Sixth and Seventh Streets.)[2]

It made a great deal of money in the 1990s and 2000s, especially on weekends. Former employee Margarita Shalina wrote in 2016 that at this time, "it was flush with money." Some of this was due to the popularity of its expensive art books.[2] Jacques Derrida was known to have visited, as well as Daniel Craig and a drunk Susan Sontag.[2] Other visitors included Madonna and Philip Glass,[5] and when the store started to accommodate speakers, Slavoj Zizek and Michael Moore.[2]

Financial problems[edit]

At one point, the store manager retired and his replacement focused on book returns and reordering titles from wholesalers. Shalina describes "books were cycling through the store without being given a chance to sell, sometimes at as little as four weeks. The scale on which we were doing this was ridiculous and no one seemed to take freight into consideration." She also described how ordering became "for the most part, unregulated and unbudgeted." Records were not kept, and "the manager would habitually delete the sales history of books."[2]

In 2011, St. Mark's Bookshop's financial problems became evident, exacerbated by the high rent. An online petition, started by a patron of the establishment, asking that the store's landlord, Cooper Union, reduce the rent, garnered over 40,000 signatures.[6] [7] In August 2012, over $24,000 was raised in an online funding drive.[8] Cooper Union, in the meantime, had been beset by financial woes of its own: Historically tuition-free, the administrators started charging tuition in the fall of 2014 to try to make up for lost endowment income.[9]

In May 2014, the store announced plans to move from 31 Third Avenue to a smaller space at 126 E. Third St; their new landlord was the New York City Housing Authority. [10] Though Clouds Architectural Office was commissioned to design its new space,[11] declining sales over the years made the store unable to afford the rent at the new location. [12] An auction was held to raise funds to cover moving expenses. [13]

Competitive pressure[edit]

St Marks Bookshop during its clearance sale

Independent bookstores have a long history in New York. Other examples include The Strand, Westsider, McNally Jackson, Shakespeare & Co, WORD, Longitude, Bluestockings, and Housing Works and in Brooklyn, powerHouse, BookCourt,[14] [15] and Greenlight Bookstore. These stores and small chains have been feeling competitive pressure from the larger chains, internet-based booksellers, and digital media.[16] In an attempt to be competitive with electronic media, St. Mark's and OR Books engaged in a joint venture where OR Books sold their electronic media via the St. Mark's website. [17]

Even some of the larger chains, such as Borders, have been unable to remain solvent in the face of competitive pressures from web-based stores and e-books. [18]

Former employees[edit]

Past employees of St. Mark's Bookshop include playwright Annie Baker, artist Wade Guyton, poet Ron Kolm, writer-performer Julie Klausner,[19] [20] and writer-translator Margarita Shalina.[2] Previous to founding St. Mark's Bookshop, owners Bob Contant and Terry McCoy both worked at 8th Street Books and also at East Side Books.[21]


See also[edit]


  1. ^ Leland, John (14 May 2014). "St. Mark's Bookshop in East Village Signs Lease on New Location". New York Times. Retrieved 17 May 2014.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i Shalina, Margaria, "Once Upon a Time There Was Bookshop in the Village," The Poetry Project magazine, issue 247, April/May 2016
  3. ^ Steinhauer, Jillian (10 February 2014). "Fighting for the Future of St. Mark's Bookshop". Hyperallergenic. Retrieved 17 May 2014.
  4. ^ Calhoun, Ada (12 February 2016). "What Went Wrong at St. Mark's Bookshop". The New Yorker. Retrieved 5 June 2016.
  5. ^ a b c Licea, Melkorka (January 24, 2016). "Mystery donor breathes new life into city's oldest bookstore". New York Post. Retrieved July 17, 2021.
  6. ^ Stein, Lorin (5 October 2011). "Saving St. Mark's". The Paris review. Retrieved 18 May 2014.
  7. ^ Mathias, Christopher (12 September 2011). "St. Mark's Bookshop Patron Starts Petition To Save Store From Closing". The Huffington Post. Retrieved 18 May 2014.
  8. ^ Brown, Stephen Rex (14 August 2012). "Bookshop Meets Fundraising Goal, Not Out of Woods Yet". The Local / East Village. The New York Times. Retrieved 18 May 2014.
  9. ^ Kaminer, Ariel (23 April 2013). "College Ends Free Tuition, and an Era". The New York Times. Retrieved 18 May 2014.
  10. ^ Fung, Amanda (15 May 2014). "St. Mark's Bookshop's new home". Crains's New York Business. Retrieved 17 May 2014.
  11. ^ "ST MARKS BOOKSHOP". Clouds Architecture Office.
  12. ^ Moss, Jeremiah (20 March 2014). "St. Marks Books to E. 3rd St". Jeremiah's Vanishing New York. Retrieved 17 May 2014.
  13. ^ Vilensky, Mike (4 December 2013). "Buy the Books, Save the Store". The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 17 May 2014.
  14. ^ Halford, Macy (12 September 2011). "Should We Fight To Save Indie Bookstores?". The New Yorker. Retrieved 18 May 2014.
  15. ^ Marotta, Jenna (10 April 2014). "Three Bookselling Institutions Get Ready For Their Next Chapters". Bedford + Bowery. Retrieved 18 May 2014.
  16. ^ "The Future of Bookstores". Eco-Libris. Retrieved 18 May 2014.
  17. ^ Teicher, Craig Morgan (7 December 2010). "OR Books Partners with St. Mark's Bookshop for E-Book Distribution". Publishers Weekly. Retrieved 18 May 2014.
  18. ^ Sanburn, Josh (19 July 2011). "5 Reasons Borders Went Out of Business (and What Will Take Its Place)". Time. Retrieved 18 May 2014.
  19. ^ Vogel, Carol (27 September 2012). "Painting, Rebooted". New York Times. Retrieved 18 May 2014.
  20. ^ Ruhling, Nancy (28 January 2014). "Astoria Characters: The Man Who Has His Way With Words". Huffington Post. Retrieved 18 May 2014.
  21. ^ Ruhling, Nancy (12 August 2012). "Ten Reasons Why We Should Help St. Mark's Bookshop Survive". Karen the Small Press Librarian. Retrieved 18 May 2014.

External links[edit]

40°43′26″N 73°59′09″W / 40.72379°N 73.98585°W / 40.72379; -73.98585