SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
Bookstores in Manhattan are becoming as scarce as newsstands and neighborhood diners. So many thought it sounded like good news this week when the Strand Bookstore on Broadway in lower Manhattan was designated to be a city landmark. Nancy Bass Wyden, whose family opened the store 92 years ago, isn't celebrating.
NANCY BASS WYDEN: We consider that we're already a landmark, that we don't need the city to come in and put red tape and bureaucracy. And they just add needless expenses to us. It's really no honor.
SIMON: Strand is a kind of Yankee Stadium of bookstores - huge, historic and the setting for rom-coms and New York memories. It sells new and used books. Some are bestsellers and small-press academic tomes, esoterica and erotica - all on four floors in New York's East Village neighborhood. We spoke with Nancy Bass Wyden in one of the aisles in which her store shelves what their slogan proclaims to be 18 miles of books. She says landmark status will just drive up the cost of their store staying in business. For example, if they need to replace the Strand's signature red awnings, they'll have to work through the Landmarks Preservation Commission.
BASS WYDEN: I would have to bring samples of the material that I want to use. I'd have to have schematics of it. I'd have to get their approval on the color sample. They said to me, everything but the lettering is up to them.
SIMON: And this would be not just an imposition, but you feel it would be an added cost.
BASS WYDEN: It is added costs. Everybody we talked to said it's two to three times the amount of cost.
SIMON: Nancy Bass Wyden and her supporters have circulated petitions to oppose landmark status for the Strand. They got 11,000 signatures. The Landmarks Commission still voted 8-0 to make a change the owner and much of the neighborhood does not want. She considers this act an effective takeover of a private business.
BASS WYDEN: And I just think it's unfair that a government agency just comes in and takes over ownership in it.
SIMON: So you're concerned that the added costs might make it more difficult for you to actually continue to run a bookstore here.
BASS WYDEN: Well, look around you. I mean, how many bookstores are there? You know, we run on fragile margins. And we employ a lot of people. We have 288 employees, most of which are unionized. There's so many vacancies in retail. Amazon's been a huge disruptor. And it's not easy.
SIMON: Yeah. And we've seen that in Manhattan a lot, haven't we?
BASS WYDEN: Yes, we have. Yeah. I mean, we're - you know, we have our challenges. But we're so grateful for all the - our customers - so loyal and such smart people that come in and buy from us. But every year, you know, our expenses keep increasing.
SIMON: I got to tell you, to a lot of people on the outside, particularly outside of New York City, having your place designated as civic landmark sounds like such a complement and such a wonderful way of guaranteeing your future.
BASS WYDEN: I mean, some people have congratulated me. And I said, no, this is no congratulations; this is a punishment.
SIMON: Can the Strand Bookstore continue to be in business here if it's a city landmark? I'll put it to you in the most blunt possible terms.
BASS WYDEN: It's going to be more difficult but we're - you know, we've adapted for 92 years. So we're figuring it out. It's my family's labor of love.
SIMON: Nancy Bass Wyden, owner of the Strand bookstore in Lower Manhattan, now a city landmark whether they like it or not.
And this note - in a blog post, Sara Carroll, who is chair of the Landmarks Preservation Commission wrote, the commission recognizes that, in this retail environment, businesses need the flexibility to adapt quickly. She also said the commission released guidelines to help owners get faster approval.
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