Nancy Bass Wyden, the third-generation owner of the building and the business, warns its new landmark status could destroy the popular store

In its 92-year history, the Strand, a New York institution and one of the worlds largest independent bookstores, has endured everything from the Great Depression to the explosion of Amazon.

It is a cruel irony, then, that having survived against the odds, the latest potential threat to the third-generation family business comes from an organisation whose purpose is supposed to be to protect.

The Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) announced in June that it had granted the Strands home an 11-storey building between Manhattans Greenwich and East Villages landmark status, despite vocal opposition from its owner who warned it would destroy the popular store.

Now Nancy Bass Wyden, who owns both the building and the business, plans to sue the government agency, claiming the citys actions are unconstitutional.

Surrounded by decorative spines in the rare books room of the Strand building, home to the bookstore for more than 60 years and bought by her father, Fred, in 1996 with his life savings, she explained her opposition to the designation, which she said is an example of government overreach.

Its going to add a lot of extra red tape and bureaucracy and added cost which we dont need to be put on us and the government should be doing the opposite, she said.

They should be encouraging grassroots small businesses, people that have mass amount of employees, they should be helping them instead of hindering them with further governmental bureaucracy and restrictions. I call it a bureaucratic noose thats been put on my throat now.

Nancy Bass Wyden, owner of the Strand. Photograph: Miranda Bryant

Buildings with landmark status are protected by the Landmarks Law, intended to protect buildings and places that represent the citys history, and regulated by LPC.

But as a result of the designation, Bass Wyden, 58, said she will have to consult them before making even minor changes to the building, including on features such as exterior signs.

When it was opened by Bass Wydens grandfather, Ben Bass, in 1927 on Fourth Avenue, then known as book row, the Strand was one of dozens of bookstores in the area. It moved locations several times before ending up at its current location near Union Square on Broadway.

But Manhattans bookstores have been in sharp decline in recent years, dropping from an estimated 386 in 1950 to 106 in 2015 and fewer than 80 this year.

Today the Strand, which has 238 staff members, is book rows only survivor and attracts 5,000 people a day with more than 2.5m new, used and rare books. Its branded tote bags have become a coveted fashion item. It also hosts author events and offers services such as books by the foot offering customised collections by criteria such as colour, size and subject.

Theres just such an unfairness Its a fragile environment, thats why theres so few bookstores, being attacked by Amazon, by ebooks, we really need help from the government and not opposition like this, said Bass Wyden, who lives between Manhattan and Oregon.

She claims there is no purpose to landmarking the Strand, which she said is not at any risk of being knocked down and is well looked after by the family.

According to the LPCs designation report, the Renaissance revival facade and steel frame of the Strand, a 1902 store and loft building designed by William H Birkmire, exemplify the stylistic character and technological advances in skyscraper architecture at the time it was built. Ironically, it also emphasises the cultural value of the building as home to the internationally-known Strand bookstore for over 60 years.

Despite resistance from the business, customers and authors including Fran Lebowitz and Gary Shteyngart and a petition with thousands of signatures, LPC unanimously voted in favour of the landmarking in June. New Yorks mayor, Bill de Blasio, even tweeted his congratulations, saying: We made it a landmark so that the culture and community it brings to the Village can be enjoyed by New Yorkers for generations to come.

Having been awarded landmark status against its will, the Strand is now preparing to file the case in the southern district of New York, where they expect to be in court in the next few months.

I feel very confident that this is a case that can be won, said lawyer Alexander Urbelis. He will argue that the citys actions are unconstitutional under the fifth amendment, which states nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation, and the 14th amendment, which says nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

Inside the Strand. Photograph: Janna Jesson

An LPC spokesperson said the building was designated as a landmark for its strong architectural, historical and cultural significance.

We recognize that the Strand bookstore is internationally beloved and it contributed to the buildings significance, and are confident that LPCs flexible and efficient regulatory process will enable the Strand to remain nimble and adapt to a changing retail climate, and thereby continue its important place in New York City, she added.

Bass Wyden, who has worked at the store all her life but started running the store when she was 25 alongside her father before becoming the sole owner after his death nearly two years ago, said they are constantly evolving.The customers are changing, how they shop is changing, but its a labour of love and its also, yeah, a struggle.

Despite the recent issues over landmarking, Bass Wyden, who has three children with her husband, Ron Wyden, the Democratic Oregon senator, said she is optimistic for the stores future.

Anthropologically we need each other, we need to exchange ideas, we are always a species that needs to learn and discover, so in some form or manner I feel that the Strand, I want it to survive, she said. I have kids, theyre young, but Im hopeful that theyll have some interest and therell be a fourth generation.



Recommended For You

Like it? Share with your friends!


Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.