Book Culture on Columbus Is Closed for Good, One Owner Says

Fans posted encouraging notes on Book Culture’s door.

“The Columbus Ave Book Culture will not reopen,” wrote co-owner Chris Doeblin, in a surprising email sent to the community on Tuesday afternoon. This comes after assurances from another co-owner and the landlord that Book Culture on Columbus (81st and 82nd), would not be allowed to fail.

“Though we were hoping to enter into an agreement which would allow the store to quickly reopen under new management, those negotiations have ceased and no such deal is in place,” Doeblin wrote.

Doeblin is in a legal dispute with co-owner John MacArthur, who sued Doeblin last year. And he’s acknowledged that the store is behind in rent, though he claimed to have paid back the vast majority of back-rent. Neither MacArthur nor the landlord responded to requests for comment. Book Culture has three other locations that remain open.

The store, which opened to much fanfare in 2014, was part of what seemed like a bookstore renaissance on the Upper West Side, which was once known for its many shops. Since Book Culture’s opening, Books of Wonder, Amazon and Shakespeare & Co. have also opened local locations.

Here is Doeblin’s full letter:

Dear Members of our Columbus Ave Book Culture store, and every other supporter too.

Book Culture on Columbus

The Columbus Ave Book Culture store will not reopen. Though we were hoping to enter into an agreement which would allow the store to quickly reopen under new management, those negotiations have ceased and no such deal is in place.

This is the saddest and most destructive outcome we had imagined. The community surrounding our stores provided a lifeline in lending to us these past 6 months. That lifeline now sits, wasted, behind the locked doors. 12 employees who absolutely lived paycheck to paycheck are now out of work.

It is certainly the case that Book Culture on Columbus could have survived and paid its debts and continued to make its contributions to the neighborhood and to the city. There are thousands of stories around the country like this where a small business is unnecessarily closed and the net loss runs exponentially through its community. It is too often the case that a worthwhile, viable and sustainable business closes for lack of access to investment at the right time. That critical investment can produce gains that also run exponentially through a community.

We will continue to try to raise money to open again in the area.

The core goals, values and vision of Book Culture are intact. Our talent, creativity and spirit are intact. Our capacity to work hard is greater than ever. Our mission for creating spaces that are beautiful and serve our community remains. The core objective is still to create and sustain a business that can be profitable and serve its community wholistically. We will continue to seek investment and landlords that want what a Book Culture store is.
We will continue to update you all.

Chris Doeblin

NEWS, OPEN/CLOSED | 40 comments | permalink
    1. Sean says:

      No surprise to me.

      • Cindy says:

        I saw this coming. When staff in a bookshop show annoyance when you interrupt their private conversations at the cash desk when trying to pay for a book, your business is in deep trouble.

        • Sid says:

          This is Chris Doeblin’s fault, and no one else.

        • Anna says:


          I had the same experience several times in the past few years and finally stopped shopping there. For each person commenting about it there are probably hundreds who stopped shopping there for the same reason and didn’t say anything.

          I did notice the staff have been much nicer recently since the financial problems became public knowledge. It’s a shame it’s too late to make a difference. Between that and the appearance of the Columbus Circle Amazon store, Book Culture was probably doomed. So sad.

        • Mary says:

          I too have been put off by the rudeness of some staff, specifically someone who was apparently a manager at the 112th store at the time. His behavior was so appalling that his colleague, a younger woman, tried to apologize for him. After that, I stopped shopping there.

    2. UWSHebrew says:

      looks like the promoting (and funding for publication), a kids book that included the page “I is for Intifada” did not add to the customer base.

      • Bruce Bernstein says:

        that was a children’s book about Palestinian culture, and got very good reviews.

        I would guess that most bookstores with children’s sections in NYC carry books with positive reinforcement and description of Jewish culture. Imagine the outcry, a justifiable one, if someone wrote in complaining that these books were being sold.

        Live and let live.

        • stevieboy says:

          Wow, that is a false equivalency if I have ever heard one. Very disappointing.

          Come on, Bruce. We expect better of you around here.

        • UWSHebrew says:

          I defy you to find one book published for children that has “positive reinforcement and description of Jewish culture”, which includes glorification of murderous violence against someone else. Because that’s what this book does, with the page for the letter “I” stating “I is for Intifada”. The “Intifada”, which of course you know, includes the killing of Israeli civilians in cafes, pizza stores, nightclubs, buses, etc. as legitimate “resistance”. And you have the temerity to state that the book was simply “a children’s book about Palestinian culture, and got very good reviews”, and you give an absurd hypothetical equivalency regarding books for Jewish children?

    3. ybss says:

      “That lifeline now sits, wasted, behind the locked doors.”

      Translation: Sorry I took everyone’s money despite not having a viable business plan and didn’t tell anyone that we were 4 months behind on rent.

    4. Sherman says:

      “It is too often the case that a worthwhile, viable and sustainable business closes for lack of access to investment at the right time.”

      An “investment” implies that the investor hopes to make a profit. When a business is a good investment investors will always find “time” to invest.

      An investment is not a charitable donation.

      If Book Culture was a “viable and sustainable” business it would have no problem getting investments or, at the very least, loans.

      Book Culture has an obsolete business model and this is why it’s closing. Mr. Doeblin should concede this and stop complaining that nobody wants to pour money into a failed business that will serve the community “wholistically”

    5. LKLA says:

      1 — On what sensible basis was Mr Doeblin hoping to enter into an agreement which would allow the store to quickly reopen? It’s simply – you either pay your bills or you don’t.

      2 — If they had imagined this sad and most destructive outcome why did they not plan accordingly?

      3 — The community provided a lifeline – meaning a loan – or meaning a donation?

      4 –That lifeline now sits, wasted, behind the locked doors – meaning the money (loan/donation) will never be repaid?

      5 — 12 employees who absolutely lived paycheck to paycheck are now out of work – will they be looking for jobs at Papyrus or Fairway? And btw, why were these employees paid such low salaries that barely allowed them to exist?

      6 — That fact is that it is rare for worthwhile, viable and sustainable businesses to close. Maybe the problem is that Book Culture thought all it needed to be was worthwhile (something that is very much debatable) and not necessarily viable and sustainable.

      7 — They will continue to try to raise money to open again in the area, meaning ask for donations or take out a business loan? And is that realistic given the realities of the situation? Btw, will they be repaying/returning the money that “sits, wasted, behind the locked doors”?

      8 — Book Culture’s values should be to run a profitable business so that it can pay its suppliers, landlord, employees and pay its taxes to the community. You don’t need to break any laws, screw anyone over, sell crack or employee child labor to achieve that.

      9 — Landords want businesses to honor their contracts and pay their rent. Nothing more, nothing less. No one here is doing God’s work! Book Culture is selling expensive trinkets along with a few books (often at higher prices than others).

    6. Mark Moore says:

      Finally an end to the drama.

      • No Scholar With a Dollar says:

        Unlikely. But if Doeblin could sell drama at a profit, he’d still be in business.

    7. Veronica says:

      Glad this comedy is over.

    8. Bob says:

      Remember that this comes from someone who is unlikely to be a part of any future bookstore in this location. So what he’s really saying is not that Book Culture is closed for good (though if he owns the name, perhaps it will need to be rebranded). There was a bookstore there before and may well be a bookstore there again (and perhaps even soon, if the other owner and the landlord are to be believed). Rather, it sounds like if there is, it will simply be without this one owner’s involvement.

    9. Billy Amato says:

      Now let’s move on…
      Never went there anyhow.. Now let’s put something there that we will go to!

    10. uws Chris says:

      Honestly it sounds like the landlord and city marshals were being very generous to allow this place to say open through the holidays. Wonder if any of the holiday sales will go anyone but the owners.

    11. ben says:

      Bad news for those who were kind enough to ‘lend’ him the money. How much of that is coming back now?

      • sam says:

        this is what I’m wondering about. Particularly with the recent stories about how much of the money was “transferred” away from the Columbus store business to the owners “other” company. Between that and the partnership lawsuit, this whole thing smells.

    12. K says:

      I completely agree with the comments about the horrible customer service. I always support local bookstores as much as possible but the shopping experience there was so awful I began to avoid B. Culture all together. With unhelpful staff who was nothing but annoyed when you had a question or where ready to check out I can say I’m at all surprised with this outcome. It’s a shame.

    13. Lynn Scooter says:

      Wow, the commentators below are so blind. You have no clue why retail businesses are failing in NYC. Look to the landlords and see what they charge for rent. Closure and grumpy employees are the result. Way to support your neighborhood. Now what do you have??? Guess you can stay home and order online. NYC is dead!

      • UWSHebrew says:

        NYC is dead? That’s a bit hysterical. Have you seen how crowded the museums like MOMA and The Met are? Tourists, natives, this is the place to be. A lousy bookstore and a supermarket that has been going downhill for years closing is justified.

      • Marc says:

        NYC is dead?! Are we? Is this a dream/nightmare? Am I a zombie? Can anyone see me? My sixth sense is failing me.

        I “cannot bear the thought” and will “literally cry”, just like (almost) everyone under the Fairway article.

      • Sean says:

        The retail landscape is changing all over the country and the rest of the world because of technology. But it remains the USA has had an over abundance of retail locations because it was post WW2 a consumer driven society. And frankly you don’t really need all the stuff you think you do.

      • ben says:

        lmao just what makes you think that the rest of us have no clue except for you. Random commenter on the internet says everybody else is wrong so he/she must be right!

      • Finian says:

        Look! Look! Look to the rainbow, and follow that fellow who follows his dream.

        Then look to the politicians and see what they charge in dream-crushing taxes, fees, fines, and penalties.

        It ain’t the landlords, doll.

    14. Nathan says:

      Anyone here want to admit to lending them money? How did you not see this coming? Wishful thinking?

    15. Tuileries says:

      I have been deeply offended by the constant use of socialist talking points —always florid, always overwrought, in the owners’ communications—all to justify the continued existence of this business…not to mention the manipulation of the emotions of so many members of the community…the abuse of his business partner and the landlord through libelous statements in the media—while refusing to accept personal responsibility for the store’s failure. There are thriving bookstores in the area; those that have been mentioned, as well as Westsider books and the bookstore at the Met. I was happy to shop at Westsider last week, as the owners do not feel the community owes them a living.

    16. Karen Lee Bruno says:

      The UWS has become a ghost town 🙁

    17. Maria says:

      Tough crowd here.Give them credit for trying ,& for what WAS accomplished there. Book Culture needs our appreciation and support, not attacks for what could have/ should have been done. As for the community lending program,I personally believe in gifting, not loans- when able. For those reading who made loans,consider , if able, just telling B.C. that it’s a gift. It won’t be wasted- the store still has bills & employee obligations, etc.God bless the west side..