By Carol Tannenhauser and Kate Koza
The much-anticipated opening today of The Strand, an outpost of the legendary downtown bookstore, was disrupted by protestors marching in a circle in front of the new store, at 450 Columbus Avenue, between 81st and 82nd Streets.
“We get sick, they get rich!” they chanted. “Whose Strand? Our Strand!”
”We’re the ones who make this store what it is,” said a young masked protester named Matthew. “We’re the ones with the passion for books.”
“I don’t have health care,” Matthew shouted over the din and through his mask.
Protesters explained their frustrations to a group of onlookers, citing dissatisfaction with the work environment and levels of compensation, as well as more pointed criticisms of the store’s decision to lay off workers during NYC’s COVID-19 lockdown while applying for and receiving over one million dollars in Paycheck Protection loan support.
While some laid-off workers were rehired upon the store’s gradual resumption of operations — and Wyden has previously stated that her goal is to rehire all 188 laid-off staff members — protesters claimed the rehirings weren’t extensive enough and didn’t address other concerns, including Wyden’s ownership of $115,000 in Amazon stock, which she has described previously as an income-generating endeavor to put money back into her own stores. It was also announced earlier this week that 12 employees who were recently rehired would once again be laid off due to what Wyden acknowledged had been overly optimistic hopes for foot traffic upon reopening.
Some onlookers seemed hesitant to physically cross through the group of protesters and enter the store; others entered, seemingly eager to explore the reopened space and support a local, independent business in what has long been a proudly book-loving neighborhood.
“I was thrilled to be the very first customer, and I’m happy and proud,” said a local woman. “But don’t use my name until I hear the details of the protest,” she added.
Wyden stood at the front of the store, positioned to greet customers and openly engage in conversation about books and the protests outside.
“When we opened up, we weren’t able to hire back everyone,” she said. “It was economics. I was thrilled to be able to open at all with a bare minimum staff, after 93 years. My father and I had looked for locations. He died two years ago.”
“My mother just died a month ago. She was older and the isolation didn’t help.” Wyden turned to greet a customer.
“Do you buy used books here?” he asked.
“Not yet, but we will,” Wyden responded.
It was hard to hear her over the chanting.