Rizzoli Bookstore Is Closing

Community Board 5 member Layla Law-Gisiko participates in demonstrations before Rizzoli Bookstore.
Community Board 5 member Layla Law-Gisiko participates in demonstrations before Rizzoli Bookstore.

HOST INTRO: After nearly 30 years in business, Rizzoli Bookstore is closing its doors at its Midtown location. This bookstore’s demise isn’t due to market share lost to Amazon, but because of real estate development. Pierre Bienaimé has more.

AMBI: Demonstration outside

This morning, a couple dozen people gathered under the scaffolding in front of Rizzoli Bookstore. According to Community Board 5, it’s being forced out of the building, to make way for the construction of a luxury condo glass tower. Most demonstrators are here to protest the city’s inaction to preserve the one hundred and nine year old building. Others, just to browse one last time. But Joe Pilla works at Rizzoli Bookstore. He’s been here, on and off, since 1995. On his last shift, he’s throwing all his weight to stock massive tomes, all of them 40 percent off, which he brought down from the second floor.

SOUND: Pilla slamming books

He’s not happy, he admits…

PILLA: I am not in the best of moods. (0:02)

The effort to save Rizzoli started in 2007, when Community Board 5 urged the Landmarks Preservation Commission to hold a public hearing about the store. But board member Layla Law-Gisiko says the Landmarks Preservation Commission turned them down.

LAW-GISIKO: CB5 asked for designation of these buildings in 2007, and we’re in 2014. Hello! What was done in the meantime? Nothing. (0:09)

Just yesterday, the commission also declined to designate the interior of the building as a landmark, something Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer had asked for.

The commission was unavailable for comment, but a statement they provided explains why they chose not to protect the building’s interior. According to them, the store’s cabinetry, flooring, and other fixtures date only from 1985. Not old enough for a landmark, in their book. One employee says the building’s owners used a tactic called pre-emptive demolition. Contractors under Vornado Realty removed some of the building’s distinguishing features, including a massive Legion of Honor medallion facing outward from the top of the six-story building. That way, the bookstore’s fans had less to fight for.

ANONYMOUS: They’ve gone in with their contractors and demolished parts of our facade just to try and sabotage the landmark process, which is appalling and should be a crime. (0:09)

Kathleen Treat has been coming to Rizzoli since her days as an art student, years before it moved to its 57th Street location. She says the closure is the city’s loss.

TREAT: Losing Rizzoli’s is like losing a big part of New York’s heart. And of course Rizzoli is not going out of business because of business but because of real estate development. (0:11)

Other independent retailers are slowly losing their place in Manhattan as well. An employee at Shakespeare and Company tells Uptown Radio they will nearly certainly be closing their location by New York University. They say a Foot Locker is moving in instead.

Pierre Bienaimé, Columbia Radio News.

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