Simon O'Hagan: End of an era for the Biography Bookshop

New York Notebook

Share
Related Topics

The books were piled high: some of them second-hand, others review copies that were as good as new, and all being sold at rock-bottom prices. It was warm and cosy in there on a bitter winter's morning, and contented murmurs could be heard round the shop as people discovered one title after another that they just had to have. A handsome hardback edition of the lyrics of Cole Porter? The memoirs of Bob Dylan's one-time girlfriend Suze Rotolo? What about the latest Paul Auster?

This was the Biography Bookshop on Bleecker Street in New York's West Village, a favoured grazing point for book-lovers for a quarter of a century and a cherished institution which has helped define the character of the neighbourhood – cultured, homely, a bit boho.

But things are changing. The visit I made the other day was one of the last that anybody will make to these charming corner premises, where rows of brownstones meet and books spill out on to trestle tables on the sidewalk, protected by a pretty blue awning. The Biography Bookshop is having to up sticks, forced out by escalating rents and a process of commercialisation which has drawn in more expensive retailers, particularly high-end clothes stores.

Some of the blame for what's happened can be laid at the door of Sex and the City. The West Village was a key location for Carrie and her friends. The Magnolia Bakery is right opposite the Biography Bookshop, and hordes of fans now flock there. The likes of Marc Jacobs have seized the opportunity to muscle in.

Similar episodes could be charted in other cities – think of what happened to Notting Hill in west London – but the fate of the Biography Bookshop, forced out by the power of money while also battling Amazon, seems particularly sad. "We knew this would happen about a year and a half ago," one of the shop's co-founders, Charles Mullen, told me. "So I've kind of gotten over it. But the way rent laws operate is not good for the city. If a fashion store comes along with a big fat cheque there's nothing you can do about it."

Not that it's all over for the Biography Bookshop. It has re-established itself on a less quaint stretch of Bleecker Street close to Seventh Avenue, and because it's no longer just a stockists of biographies, it has taken the opportunity to rename itself as Bookbook.

Next Wednesday will be the Biography Bookshop's last day in operation. Any plans to mark the occasion, I asked. "Probably just something informal," said Mr Mullen. "Some wine or soda for any customers who call by." And so a chapter of New York life closes.

The curse of the hydrant

One unconsidered aspect of the Tiger Woods affair is surely the ubiquity of the fire hydrant on US streets. It was one of these tough metal protuberances that the golfer drove his car into, and so many of them are dotted about that I can see what a hazard they are, not least to pedestrians.

That Britain keeps its hydrants safely tucked away under yellow covers with a big H on them while America prefers rampant outbreaks of street furniture is just another of those curious differences between us.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Tradewind Recruitment: Science Teacher

£90 - £140 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: I am currently working in partnersh...

Recruitment Genius: Doctors - Dubai - High "Tax Free" Earnings

£96000 - £200000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Looking for a better earning p...

Recruitment Genius: PHP Developer

£32000 - £36000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A rapidly expanding company in ...

Recruitment Genius: PA

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A PA is required to join a leading provider of...

Day In a Page

Read Next
British Prime Minister Tony Blair (L) pictured shaking hands with Libyan leader Colonel Moamer Kadhafi on 25 March 2004.  

There's nothing wrong with Labour’s modernisers except how outdated they look

Mark Steel
 

Any chance the other parties will run their election campaigns without any deceit or nastiness?

Nigel Farage
Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee
World War Z author Max Brooks honours WW1's Harlem Hellfighters in new graphic novel

Max Brooks honours Harlem Hellfighters

The author talks about race, legacy and his Will Smith film option to Tim Walker
Why the league system no longer measures up

League system no longer measures up

Jon Coles, former head of standards at the Department of Education, used to be in charge of school performance rankings. He explains how he would reform the system
Valentine's Day cards: 5 best online card shops

Don't leave it to the petrol station: The best online card shops for Valentine's Day

Can't find a card you like on the high street? Try one of these sites for individual, personalised options, whatever your taste
Diego Costa: Devil in blue who upsets defences is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

Devil in blue Costa is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

The Reds are desperately missing Luis Suarez, says Ian Herbert
Ashley Giles: 'I'll watch England – but not as a fan'

Ashley Giles: 'I'll watch England – but not as a fan'

Former one-day coach says he will ‘observe’ their World Cup games – but ‘won’t be jumping up and down’