Book Culture’s Columbus Avenue Store Closes With Marshal’s Possession Notice on Door; Lawsuit Also Muddies Future

A city marshal seized Book Culture’s store on Columbus Avenue between 81st and 82nd Streets on Tuesday, and the store sent out a notice that it was “temporarily” closed. Book Culture co-owner Chris Doeblin said the store is facing an “eviction action” because of back rent from the summer.

“Since August, we have been making monthly rent with the help of the community lending program, and as of December, began paying down the owed rent,” he wrote in an email to customers. “We believed that it had been communicated to us that we would be able to remain open as long as we continued on this trajectory.”

“We are certainly still fragile and recovering financially but much stronger than we were 6 months ago,” Doeblin wrote in an email to West Side Rag.

Whether or not the store reopens soon, Book Culture’s woes may be more than temporary. Doeblin and co-owner John MacArthur are also embroiled in litigation, and the store’s future has been in question for months. Doeblin had attempted to raise money for Book Culture through a “community lending” program that involved borrowing money from customers. He said in July he needed to raise $750,000; as of September, the store had raised about $200,000.

MacArthur, the publisher of Harper’s, declined to comment on the suit, according to a rep. He previously raised concerns that the lending program had given a mistaken impression about the store, conflating problems at other Book Culture locations with the situation at the Columbus Avenue store, which was in better shape. Doeblin wrote in an email to West Side Rag that MacArthur (whom he calls “Rick”, using MacArthur’s middle name) is looking to take control of the store. “I am afraid that this very wealthy person will succeed in pushing our family out and take control of this creation that we gave life to,” he wrote, adding, “We will fight for our beautiful little store.”

Thanks to Karen for the photos.

NEWS, OPEN/CLOSED | 28 comments | permalink
    1. Sid says:

      I love Book Culture, and I certainly love this location, but their history of mismanagement is atrocious. Doeblin has been horrible to his employees as well as customers (that I’ve seen and experienced in person). His union-busting and other tactics have no place on the UWS.

    2. Con Job says:

      Didn’t this guy just raise a ton of money on GoFundMe?

      Move over, PT Barnum.

    3. UWSHebrew says:

      P is for Palestine.

    4. Lynn says:

      They overextended. I hope the others, near Columbia, remain in business.

    5. sudden_eyes says:

      I hope MacArthur DOES rescue this store. The past few months have been just insane, and we really need an independent bookstore in this part of the neighborhood.

    6. Chase says:

      They raised over $500k and this happens? Something doesn’t seem right here… I hope there’s an investigation.

    7. Book 'em, Danno says:

      To the surprise of no one, except possibly any ‘community investors’.

    8. K says:

      This is such a shame as I am a huge advocate of independent, local bookstores. However, I must say that every single time I’ve entered Book Culture I’ve been frustrated by the indifferent staff who act more frustrated and annoyed when I have a question than actually being helpful. I feel the neighborhood will and wants to absolutely support a bookstore but we need one that is better managed and seemingly also wants to be here and help their customers.

      • NotImpressed says:

        K, I had the same experience.
        Twice I shopped there and twice the service was abysmal.
        I decided to never return.

      • W 67th St says:

        I know it’s a little further downtown, but I wholeheartedly recommend the newly opened Shakespeare & Co on Broadway between 69th and 70th. The service is excellent, and the selection is pretty good (plus they will order anything for you if they don’t have it in stock).

    9. Michael says:

      Seriously, I love B&N on 82nd. They have been a part of the community for as long as I can remember. There is NO WAY they cover a market rent with their receipts – but yet they remain. I’m not sure what was going on with BC, but losing B&N would be a tremendous loss to the upper west side. TREMENDOUS!

      • Liifeoong UWS says:

        Yeah, except barnes and noble is the antithesis of an independent.

        I don’t know how long you have lived on the UWS, but I’ve been here since i was a kid, in the late 80s. Up until 1993, B and N was in a small store on the east side of, like, 83rd. It was horrible. Shakespeare and Company was THE bookstore, and when B and N expanded, Shakespeare did not last.very long.

        I like this Barnes and Noble but the closing of Shakespeare and Company was horrible.

        I love the new Shakespeare and Company.

        • Michael says:

          I enjoyed the original Shakespeare and Co. and I visited often. But if I recall, the organization needed help. That is, I have memories (real or not) of feeling overwhelmed trying to find what I was looking for.

          I agree B&N is not independent. My point was, they have chosen to act as a part of the community (by seemingly operating below the market value of their rent) as opposed to a large and heartless organization that will remain only if the community can support some percentage of net profit. This fact alone warrants our respect and our support. My second point was that the loss of B&N would loom considerably larger than BC.

          Clearly, independent doesn’t mean valiant and/or honorable. Similarly, corporate doesn’t mean soleless and/or unempathetic to community needs.

        • B Lee says:

          It may not be independent but really any physical bookstore is a treasure at this point and we should all try to preserve them. I remember when B&N bought out B Daltons and when Coliseum Books used to be the best store in Columbus Circle. The B&N on Broadway is amazing and I would be sad to see it leave. I try to buy books from their when I can esp. children’s books.

    10. ybss says:

      List of places that Book Culture has blamed for their financial troubles:
      – Amazon
      – The government, for not using taxpayer money to subsidize their for-profit business
      – Their landlord

      Who’s next?

    11. ybss says:

      Book Culture in June: “All of that payroll along with the $700,000 a year that we pay in rent goes right back into the New York economy.”

      Book Culture in January: “Last year Book Culture fell into a financial crisis and we fell behind on our rent at Columbus as much as 4 months, or over $175,000.”


      • Luycurgus7 says:

        I respectfully disagree. In every economy, there are always winners and losers, and it seems the losers of this economic climate are the old school, mom and pop iconic businesses in the uws. Fairway, an icon for all of us, is threatening to be replaced by Shoprite!!! no offense to Shoprite of course, but is this Long Island? It seems that only restaurants with high margins due to liquor, nail salons with no cost of goods sold, and $6 latte shops and $5 croissants can survive on this climate. Oh and let’s not forget the banks, who obviously survived in 2008 from the Tarp bailout, and now are lecturing small business owners how to survive when the only survived due to government handouts. Crazy times

        • Sprinkles says:

          Fairway is a horror show now, and has been for a long time. The employees always look miserable and that’s a massive hint.

          If Book Culture has already blown through all its crowdfunding money, then it is simply not a viable business. It couldn’t be more obvious. You might as well throw money down the toilet – you’re funding a very expensive hobby, not a business.

    12. UWSMillenial says:

      More emails from ownership telling a sob story. The “poor me” mentality began back in the summer, with blame being thrown at everyone else (the landlord, the government), and continues now. The way this saga is being played out in the public arena leaves a terrible taste for the owners of the store.

      I want a local bookstore in the neighborhood as much as anybody, but I don’t want it like this.

    13. Danny says:

      This is so sad. This is one of our favorite stores on the UWS. A favorite date night destination for me and my wife. I really hope they re-open. Why do landlords punish the community like this.

      • Dueño Sueño says:

        Have you read nothing, son?

        This has nothing to do with landlord greed, and EVERYTHING to do with a business owner’s incompetence and perhaps dishonesty.

        Get off the landlord already.

    14. Dominique Borel says:

      I did not realize that Book Culture was struggling so, and I live around the corner.. Every time I came into the store it was teeming with people and the cash register seemed busy. I am so sorry. This store has been doing a crucial and wonderful thing. for the neighborhood and more. Please come back and stay with us. Contrarily to some of the comments posted, I never was a victim of shoddy service in the store. Most recently I ordered a book and when called and told it had arrived, paid for it over the phone and asked if they could gift wrap it for me and have it ready for pick up by the destined recipient. I was out of town, it was during the Christmas rush. My friend showed up and the book was wrapped, ready and wating at the counter with his name on it.

    15. Bill says:

      I can’t comment on the owner, landlord or the business practices of either, but every time I went in the staff was very helpful and courteous, smiling even. When a book I wanted wasn’t in stock, a staff member took my email address and notified me when the book came in. I know B&N will do that, too, but it was a nice touch to have it offered to me. I do think its closing would be a loss. Maybe a change in ownership or management is what is needed. My daughter and granddaughter like to go there when they visit from Brooklyn.