Book Culture Remains Closed as Finger-Pointing Continues

Chris Doeblin in front of Book Culture during a rally to save the store. Photo by Carol Tannenhauser.

Book Culture’s Columbus Avenue location between 81st and 82nd Streets was seized by a city marshal last week because of unpaid rent. It remained closed this week as the various parties involved blamed each other.

Chris Doeblin, who started the Book Culture chain and is part-owner of the Columbus Avenue location, has said that he has been working to pay back rent from prior months in a deal with the landlord, Walker Malloy & Company. He said that Walker Malloy had agreed to give Book Culture more time to pay the rent off, given the huge strides the store had already made. After the closure, Book Culture held a rally and sent out a note to customers urging them to contact the landlord so the store could stay open. “Over the last 5 years Book Culture has paid over $2.5M to a landlord that served an eviction notice 5 days before Christmas,” the note said.

But Walker Malloy sees things differently, and claimed in a note posted on the Book Culture door that the store was simply not being run well. Robert Quinlan of Walker Malloy called it “a classic story of over-expansion and poor operating decisions.” The note did provide some hope however. “We are working quickly to again provide readers with its neighborhood bookstore,” Quinlan wrote.

Click to enlarge.

Someone else, meanwhile, posted a note over Quinlan’s with a Bob Dylan quote. (Doeblin tells us it wasn’t him.)

Doeblin is also at odds with another owner at the Columbus Avenue location — John MacArthur, who is the publisher of Harper’s magazine. MacArthur sued Doeblin in state court in November, alleging that he used the Columbus Avenue store for credit to fund his other stores, which have a different corporate structure and are not part-owned by MacArthur. He also cried foul about a lending program that Doeblin started to raise money from customers. “Doeblin has further used BCC’s name and reputation in an investment scheme that could cause unwitting investors to think they are investing in BCC when in fact they are not,” the suit says. We previously reported on MacArthur’s complaints about the lending program, which has raised about $600,000.

Doeblin has denied these claims and said MacArthur is trying to take over the store from him — a symbol of an economy controlled by just a few people. “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,” Doeblin wrote to us.

Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer’s office told us she’s attempting to mediate all of this. In the meantime, the bookstore remains closed, and it’s not clear if or when it will reopen.

NEWS | 12 comments | permalink
    1. LKLA says:

      Why is Book Culture asking for donations if one of its owners/partners, John MacArthur, is a “very wealthy person”?

      What “huge strides” has Book Culture made – other than “holding a rally and sent out a note to customers urging them to contact the landlord”?

      Why does paying $2.5 million in rent over five years matter any more or any less than paying $25 thousand for $2.5 billion – neither of the three excuses you to stop paying rent.

      • Michael G says:

        LKLA: They were not asking for donations, but loans (“lending program” “investment scheme”).

        MacArthur is co-owner of one of the locations that is operated by Book Culture, not a partner in Book Culture itself or any of the other locations.

        It’s so easy to criticize Doeblin when you get the facts straight, so what’s the deal with making stuff up?

        • LKLA says:

          They started a GoFundMe petition! When you have a business you go to a bank and ask for a loan. Lets stop blowing smoke up people’s rears. By the way, explain to me how Book Culture was planning on repaying these so called loans – what was the payment schedule, what interest rate did they agree to pay, where is the loan contract?

          Mr. MacArthur is involved in Book Culture, to say the least. Otherwise, why is he even being mentioned? Being co-owner of one location (when there are not even a handful of locations) is not much different than being a partner.

          If anyone has criticized anyone it is Mr Doeblin! Talk about an example of the pot calling the kettle black!

          By the way, what are some of the “huge strides” that Book Culture has made – other than “holding a rally and sent out a note to customers urging them to contact the landlord”?

          And, why does paying $2.5 million in rent over five years matter any more or any less than paying $25 thousand for $2.5 billion – neither of the three excuses a tenant from paying rent.

    2. ybss says:

      Love the absolute, unironic entitlement that Doeblin feels. In the past few months, he has:
      – Insisted that the government (ie, taxpayers) subsidize his for-profit business because it’s failing
      – Shamed his landlord and demanded to stay open despite missing 4 months of rent
      – Traded in the language of social justice and neighborhood unity to make the case that this is about an injustice to us all, rather than his utter mismanagement

      Also egregious: he has claimed multiple times that his business plan is sound and that “business is good.” If business is good and you still need $700,000 to keep it afloat, you’ve got a major, underlying problem.

    3. Rational UWS says:

      Could you please stop reporting on this non-story. It was worth one headline – “Local book store closes.”

      • S says:

        I think this story is actually quite important and deserving of updates. Much of the community is rallying behind a man victimizing himself, while it looks as though he may be more of a con artist than victim or community advocate.

    4. Spence Halperin says:

      UWSers once were smarter than that..lending money to a clearly dishonest person.I am only guessing that the hoodwinked lenders were also clients of Bernie Madoff.

    5. Sean says:

      This is a guy who can’t let go.

    6. Jsc says:

      Anyone who’s ever worked in retail could tell you why book culture failed. Terrible merchandising – too much space given to gifts and other slow-moving products and a total hodge podge that was hard to navigate. Adult book displays not well thought out, and rarely changed visually to provide interest to people coming back in.

      Kids section beautifully set up with cute seating areas but whoever was buying for kids doesn’t seem to know the market well, poor selection of books, badly curated and poorly displayed and again too much space devoted to slow-moving products.

      And that’s not even discussing the service throughout the store. I’d been in so many times wanting to support the store and have never ever been spoken to once by anyone working there. Tons of people working but not doing anything but sitting – did anyone ever look at their scheduling? I’m sure they overspent on labor costs. You don’t need 3 people behind the upstairs cash registers at low traffic times.

      I’m surprised they lasted so long. And I’m sorry for anyone who chose to “invest.”

    7. David says:

      I’ve only been to the Columbus store a few times, but I go to two near Columbia a lot and occasionally to the one on Long Island City. They are my favorite book stores in the city. I hope they stay around. The one on 112th St has a fantastic selection upstairs.

      • Steve M says:

        Let’s have stores that make money in this neighborhood. I’ve seen how it went in Palo Alto when wealth kept money losing stores from closing, and they just get dumber and dumber. Evwntually, they just become clubhouses for the donors.

    8. Bronx Boy says:

      Rick MacArthur is rich, but he’s not THAT rich. His grandfather disinherited his father (all three were named John, btw, which is why the one in question goes by Rick). Even though he’s associated with the foundation named after his grandparents, he’s not a billionaire nor anywhere close.

      For what it’s worth, I think this is an important story for the WSR.