Book Culture Is No Longer in ‘Imminent Danger’ of Closing, But Is Now Facing Pressure From Publishers

By Carol Tannenhauser

Book Culture, the popular independent bookstore with three locations on or near the Upper West Side, is no longer in imminent danger of closing, its owner Chris Doeblin emailed WSR on Thursday. But it has a new problem: pressure from publishers.

Doeblin’s unorthodox method of raising funds has borne some results—and mixed reactions. In June, he wrote an open letter to the community and elected officials requesting “financial assistance or investment on an interim basis.” In a follow-up letter, he clarified that he was “hoping to borrow and then repay at least $750,000 to pay our vendors and publishers, and restock our stores.”

Doeblin told us that he has raised “a little over $200,000” so far. He called it “a huge step forward,” but added he still has miles to go.

“We have committed to the students and faculty at Barnard and Columbia that we are going to be able to fulfill our course-book obligation,” he said.

Book Culture has locations near the campuses, on 112th Street between Amsterdam and Broadway, and 114th Street and Broadway. It also has a store on Columbus Avenue, between 81st and 82nd Streets.

“But we will have to continue our campaign for some time to get the stability we need to declare we are out of the woods,” Doeblin added.

Making matters worse, publishers are putting the squeeze on Book Culture. “The publishing industry is responding to our need for credit and inventory by shrinking our lines of credit to reduce their exposure to risk.”

For now, Book Culture is hanging on.

“We do not have an imminent plan to close,” Doeblin said. “We are going to continue to do everything we can to find financing that is sustainable.”

NEWS | 20 comments | permalink
    1. B.B. says:

      Business credit is not that much different from personal; people prefer lending money to those that (apparently) don’t need it.

      You can have a perfect record of on time payments, which is all fine and well. But if a whiff of financial distress gets out, then credit lines are cut, if not closed.

      For businesses that must carry inventory inability to do so, and or at favorable terms can lead to a downward spiral that can (and often does) lead to going closing.

      Recall a year or so back when DAG’s shelves were bare and everyone thought they were going bankrupt? That was due to suppliers refusing to extend credit for inventory. Fed up with late payments and promises places stopped shipping to DAG until they got or saw some money.

      Red Apple stepped in where no bank (or anyone else) would, and gave D’Agostino financing. In short order shelves were once again stocked.

    2. Sherman says:

      I’m very curious who gave them this $200K in financing.

    3. leon says:

      I was in the Columbus Avenue Book Culture a few weeks ago and their lower level kids section was pretty thinned out. I had store credit and wanted to use it while it was still worth something.

      I don’t think any banks are going to be lending them money except at very high interest rates with very strict terms.

    4. ben says:

      Maybe having two locations within 2.5 blocks of each other isn’t the best idea if you are not Starbucks?

      • Marilyn says:

        They are very different stores. One very intellectual – clearly caters to the colleges. It’s a great place for very interesting books you won’t find At any other bookstore.

        And of course they compete w Barnard & Columbia’s bookstores. Sadly. Like Columbia needs that money given it’s disposable real estate practices.

    5. Mal Prognosis says:

      Three points and a conclusion:

      1) I read an article from around the time the Columbus Ave store opened that said they were paying $35,000/month for that location; this was 2-3 years ago, at least. Wondering if that rent has been re-negotiated.

      2) Read an article in the Spectator from April that said Columbia had signed a deal with B&N to provide all student textbooks at a discount.

      3) Same Spectator article reported that Columbia gave Book Culture rent concessions because of the anticipated effect to BC of the deal with B&N.

      Conclusion: Further cash infusions are like tube-feeding a corpse.

    6. UWS_lifer says:

      No offense but the constant updates on the financial issues this business is going through is becoming quite tiresome.

      As I said before, this guy has a lot of chutzpah and maybe not enough business acumen. Just curious why we are all going along for the ride.

      • Marilyn says:

        Because bookstores are important community resources! They give readings, have book group meetings and, oh yeah, sell books!!

        • Boy Scout Reader says:

          I don’t buy physical books anymore. Haven’t for awhile. Take up too much space in space-limited apartment, and after you’ve read them become little more than a vanity item announcing to guests “Look what I’ve read!” (whether the book has been read or not).

          Books are like merit badges that one awards oneself.

    7. ybss says:

      First, Book Culture said the reason for its failure was the minimal wage, then it was Amazon’s fault. And now it’s publishers. Unbelievable.

      I want to support Book Culture, but the way they’ve gone about this process has been very disappointing.

    8. Mark Moore says:

      Such drama.

    9. UWSJIM says:

      This is great news They really should have more events in the evenings – that’s a great way for people to come in, and will purchase more naturally. I was in yesterday and there were no upcoming events. What if they hosted a pop up shop for coffee on Saturdays where you get a coffee or croissant with a purchase of X amount?

    10. DorothyT says:

      I love Book Culture’s store on W. 112th and would miss it greatly. The Columbus Avenue store is mostly a gift shop (non-books) with obviously a big monthly rent. It is thinly stocked. 114th and Broadway is a little better, with a nice children’s section in the lower level that needs better signage. Columbus is obviously bleeding them and lenders should be wary, sadly. With the exception of W. 112th, they should be careful of their mix of nonfiction political hardcovers. These authors are guests on MSNBC and maybe CNN, but most of those titles don’t sell well in hardcover. I managed a large bookstore in Beverly Hills CA some time ago. You have to manage your buying of new titles carefully and take advantage of publishers’ return policies religiously. I wish Book Culture good luck.

    11. Lauren says:

      I applaud those who were able to donate and support independent bookstores!

    12. B.B. says:

      Book Culture had better sort their inventory issues out quickly. Moving in day for Columbia is fast approaching as is back to school/college time.

      La rentrée will bring all New Yorkers back home from the country/holidays and the season will settle into its routine.

      High Holy Days are later this year (starting last week of September), and before you know it the holiday shopping season will begin.

      Long story short if BC doesn’t have their gift/book inventory situation settled by the most important shopping period for retail, that is probably going to be the end.

    13. Lauren says:

      I’d rather help out the public library.

    14. ZooZooB says:

      I have mixed feelings. Of course I support Book Culture, but I wondered why the expansion in so short a time–gigantic store in LIC. Doeblin answered my question on this by saying it keeps their costs down. Plus there was his anti-unionization effort. I don’t know what ultimately went down with that but there was a “blame the workers for their high cost” line of reasoning being pushed at one point. Doesn’t BC get subsidized rent from CU? I thought they were the main purveyor of textbooks, not B&N. Anyway, I support by buying book-books there, and I hope BC survives!

      • Mary says:

        I live on 111th and used to shop regularly at the store on 112th, stopping by regularly whenever I had to go to the post office. I’m an academic and go through a lot of books, so I occasionally sold used books to them for a small amount, rather than discarding them. The last time I took some books in to see whether I could sell them, the guy at the desk was so rude I asked to speak to the store manager. Turns out, he was the manager. I haven’t been back since.

    15. B.B. says:

      Case in point; this is what happens when a shop doesn’t pay creditors and vendors cut them off:

      https://gothamist.com/2019/08/21/dean_deluca_soho_empty.php

      Places will only extend credit but so far. At some point they simply say “give me my money”.

      For those old enough to remember when stores/shops has house charge accounts (like your local butcher, laundry or grocer). Some would let a household slide for a few months while continuing to allow them to make more charges. Sometimes a household would pay a bit of the amount owing, and be allowed to charge more. However sooner or later entire past due bills had to be paid or household was cut off.