Owner and Donors Toast the Rescue of Westsider Books; ‘It’s a Big Deal,’ Gale Brewer Says

By Olivia Lucas

On Saturday, January 26th, family, friends, and donors gathered to celebrate the revival of Westsider Books. Guests sipped rosé champagne, ate bacon-wrapped parmesan-stuffed dates, and commiserated over the Upper West Side’s changing landscape.

Over 20 people convened in a colorfully decorated Upper West Side apartment that reflected the aura of the evening. Bright pinks, purples, and blues surrounded elated guests, giddy with the promise of a continued community. Strangers huddled close, exchanged memories of visits to the bookstore on Broadway between 80th and 81st Streets, and shared their favorite novels. Dorian Thornley, co-owner of Westsider Books, recounted his start at Westsider in March of 1995. Thornley and friends toasted Bobby Panza, the creator of the “Save Westsider Rare & Used Books, Please” GoFundMe page. Panza’s parents were there and expressed pride in their son. He saved a landmark, a place of joy and exploration for so many.

Less than a week earlier, Westsider Books had met the $50,000 GoFundMe goal that would allow the bookstore to remain in business. The number of donations (873 and counting) spoke to the community’s desire to preserve a piece of the old Upper West Side. Donors at the party noted a love for books as a motivation for their donation, but, more importantly, a love for their neighborhood. Over the past few years, Broadway has become home to empty storefronts. Small businesses and landmarks of the UWS have been disappearing and affecting the identity of the neighborhood. Westsider Books is an emblem of the past. As West Side residents walk through the door, the distinct smell of used books reminds them of why they first moved to the area. The quaint store acts as an escape for literary lovers and as a portal to the past—to a New York from 25 years ago.

Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer attended the party. She arrived with a wide smile, shaking her head in disbelief and delight. In an interview with West Side Rag, Brewer explained her reaction to the news and interest in Westsider Books. “As somebody who has been fighting for owner-operated, mom-and-pop stores — book stores, pizza shops, bodegas — when you have a win like this you feel really happy,” she said. “And it was neighborhood-based, grassroots-based. People love the store, but not many people pull it off.”

Brewer smiled, “My husband shops there all the time, he loves that store. And he was devastated. The fact that you all came together and supported the store, I think it’s unique. I don’t think that’s ever happened. I was very proud that it happened on the Upper West Side, very proud that it was a bookstore. It’s a big deal in New York. It’s a big deal.” Brewer posed for a picture with Panza, and Sally Martell who made a generous donation of $10,000 early on in the campaign.

The evening closed on an auction to benefit the store’s collection of rare books. Bidding started anywhere from $5 to $1,200. Guests snatched up first editions, and signed copies, including a rare, red leather-bound Jane Austen collection. The money raised from the auction and the GoFundMe page will allow Thornley to improve the store’s inventory. The GoFundMe page will remain open until the end of February.

Olivia Lucas is a senior at Fordham University and a bookseller at Westsider Books.

COLUMNS | 13 comments | permalink
    1. Bruce E. Bernstein says:

      Bobby Panza’s parents SHOULD BE very proud of him.

      I hope that the effort behind this can morph into an effort to save small mom-and-pop businesses throughout Manhattan. one tactic is an idea that has been bouncing around for a long long time: some sort of commercial rent regulation. the time has come.

      perhaps a not for profit, with city help, can purchase certain spaces that are “protected” for small businesses.

    2. Mark Moore says:

      “Rescued” the shop for how long? Without a change in business plan it will just burn through all this money too.

    3. Sherman says:

      Since Gale Brewer claims she has been “fighting” for small businesses on the UWS I would like to hear one thing she has actually done or one success she can claim.

      (OK, she had a “Storefronters” program back in 2015 but this flopped).

      There are many reasons why these small businesses are failing and there’s actually very little politicians can (or should) do to save a business with an obsolete business model.

      Abolishing the Commercial Rent Tax for small businesses might help a bit and this idea is being discussed. However, this will likely have minimal impact.

      Also, raising the minimum wage to $15 isn’t exactly going to help many of these already struggling small businesses.

      Gale Brewer should stop exploiting a complex problem for cheap political gain when she has done absolutely nothing.

      Anyway, I’m glad Westsider Books is still alive but I wonder how long this will last.

      • Kyle Campion says:

        Yet, somehow, you forgot to mention the one thing that’s actually closing businesses – the rent.

      • Bruce E. Bernstein says:

        Commercial rent tax: businesses up to $250K in annual rent are exempt; businesses from $250-300K get a tax credit that offsets the majority of the tax. it only is applicable south of 96th Street.

        given the spiraling rent in Manhattan, the exemption should probably be raised. but it’s ridiculous to say the problem is the TAX. The problem is the ridiculous rents. We have to rein in the landlords.

        Gale Brewer: she said she has been FIGHTING for small businesses for years. this is accurate. Check out this report from her office, from 2015:

        http://manhattanbp.nyc.gov/downloads/pdf/SmallBusinessBigImpactFINAL.pdf

        She’s known for fighting AGAINST the landlord. But even the landlords and developers respect her.

        We need commercial rent regulation. Save the small stores!

      • anon says:

        Can’t politicians pass a bill that would charge landlords a gigantic fee for keeping storefronts empty for more than 6-8 months?

    4. Hannah says:

      Beautifully told, Olivia!

    5. Confused Around the Corner says:

      This strikes me as somewhat insane. Im all for small businesses. Ill go out of my way shop at an independent seller vs a big box chain any chance I get. Where I draw the line is handing over my hard earned money over shear nostalgia. What will we all do when the next payment is due?

    6. Carlos says:

      Could you identify the people in the pictures (other than Brewer)?

    7. Veronica says:

      This is what Gale Brewer does best. She also claimed victory in stopping the huge new building going up at Amsterdam Avenue and 69th street. Way to go Gale,

    8. Peter Peyser says:

      What promises have the owners made about how long they will keep the store open after receiving this gift from the community? How very odd to give a business a gift and receive no commitments in return.

      • Filatura says:

        Peter, if you give someone, say, a shirt, do you think you have the right to make the recipient promise to wear it every Thursday? Contributions to the West Side Book Sellers fund were made as gifts, not loans or investments. A gift by definition requires no quid pro quo unless it’s something like an engagement ring, whose acceptance implies a commitment to marry the giver. Once given, a gift is the recipient’s to use wisely, squander foolishly, hoard or pass it on. It would be nice if the recipient made good use of it,but there’s no obligation to do so.