A pillar of the independent bookstore community — one whose logo contains a Greek column — may be about to crumble.
Coliseum Books, the Midtown Manhattan store known for its knowledgeable staff, has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.While it is open for business, bankruptcy documents filed in the southern district of New York say the store's board of directors will voluntarily seek to "wind-down the company's affairs."
Since 2003, the store has stood at 11 W. 42nd St., opposite the main branch of the New York Public Library. Between 1974 and 2002, it stood at Broadway and 57th Street.Higher rent forced the move.
"These oases are disappearing," said Christopher Kerr, of Parson Weems LLC, a publisher sales representative firm that does business with Coliseum.
"It's totally sad," a night manager at Coliseum, Ron Kolm, said."It will leave a gaping cultural wound in the neighborhood." He is co-author of "neo PHOBE," a novel about a writers' collective solving a serial murder case, published by Unbearable Books.
Documents obtained by The New York Sun list George Leibson and Irwin Hersch as general partners of Coliseum Books and Café LLC. Mr. Leibson could not be reached by press time.
The store at 11 W. 42nd St. is shaped something like the state of Oklahoma, with a panhandle stretching north to 43rd Street, is stocked with books about gardening, computers, and business. Along the front western wall, an enormous literary backlist and belles lettres beckoned. Yellow-lettered signs that read "Philosophy Western" and "Philosophy Eastern" hang overhead. Its much-trafficked magazine section featured titles ranging from Fangoria to lacanian ink.
Another imperiled independent store is Gotham Book Mart, four blocks north, which is facing eviction.
After Coliseum opened in Midtown, a Barnes & Noble on Fifth Avenue relocated a couple blocks south, to 46th Street. Coliseum felt that this was "a possible contributing factor to sales decreases," Mr. Kerr said.
Coliseum's Midtown store is in a less a residential neighborhood than its Columbus Avenue location, which had more space and whose basement was filled with remainders.A number of customers work in the area on weekdays; Condé Nast and Grand Central Terminal are a couple blocks in either direction. On weekends, many browsers are tourists.
"It never got the chance to rebuild their customer relationships" nurtured at the previous location, Mr. Kerr said.
The store generated enjoyed much goodwill. Mr. Kerr said that during the 2003 summer blackout, Coliseum had its own power generator and some employees slept over, as the store stayed open as a community resource. It offered a restroom that was accessible to the public during the crisis. In its new location, the store has supplied books for special readings in Bryant Park across the street.
Well-known writers and figures have walked the aisles at the store over the years. At Columbus Avenue, Philip Roth and Liza Minnelli were seen shopping.
Playwright Tony Kushner was once quoted in the New York Times saying that when the Columbus Avenue store closed, he and his partner "practically wore black armbands." Pete Hamill once listed the store as one of the reasons worth living in New York. Musicians Lou Reed and Laurie Anderson were in the store last week to hear a CUNY Graduate Center professor, Wayne Koestenbaum.
A co-owner of St. Mark's Bookshop, Robert Contant, said Coliseum was the kind of space where one could find any Penguin Classic.
Aspiring writers poring over laptops or notebooks can be seen sitting in the store's lively café. (It originally considered a wine bar.) Near the clatter of coffee cups, there are tourist items that greet visitors upon entering.
"One of the things about the store," Mr. Kerr said, "is the long-tenured staff. They are dedicated book professionals with deep knowledge of publishing and a strong commitment to public service. Each was a walking encyclopedia of book knowledge." Seeing their employees work is "like watching a great magician." They can practically pluck the book requested out of air, he said.
Talented, too: Buyer Floyd Sykes has written novel manuscript called "I'm Your Man," about Times Square. Mr. Kolm published Hal Sirowitz's first book and helps build archives. He once sold a collection of Lower East Side literary material to the Fales Library at New York University.
Mr. Kerr wondered how many couples met in the bookstore's poetry or self-help sections over the years. Some Coliseum Books shirts with logos adumbrate what may be the store's future: "So Many Books, So Little Time."