When Shakespeare & Co. shutters its downtown store on Broadway at the end of August, it could mean the end of one of New York City’s most beloved indie bookstore chains. Once with as many as four locations in Manhattan and two in Brooklyn, Shakespeare & Co. is now in danger of closing entirely.
Known for its mix of high-brow literature and college texts, Shakespeare & Co. was founded in 1981, when independent bookstores were at their height. After news surfaced last week that the company's Broadway store is closing, PW learned that the one remaining Shakespeare & Co. outpost, on Manhattan's Upper East Side, may close as well.
The Broadway store had been operating without a lease for more than a year, before it was forced out by higher rent. The lease at the remaining Shakespeare & Co. store, on Lexington Avenue, is currently under negotiations with another business. Now, according to a number of booksellers who asked to remain anonymous, it’s just a matter of time before the Lexington Avenue location will lose its lease, as well.
At press time, the owners of Shakespeare & Co. had not responded to PW’s calls and e-mails.
Over the past few years, bookstore watchers have noted that Shakespeare & Co. has been shrinking. It stopped selling trade books from its Gramercy store, on 23rd Street, in 2008, and has since stopped selling textbooks. Shakespeare & Co.'s Brooklyn store closed this spring.
But it was the 1996 closing of Shakespeare & Co.’s original Upper West Side location that came to symbolize the the struggle between independent bookstores and the chains. After a Barnes & Noble moved one block away, the then-15-year-old bookstore on West 81st Street was forced out of business.
At the time, the New York Times quoted writer Toni Morrison saying, of the store's closing, that it was "melancholy and outrageous." Morrison continued: "The loss of that kind of personalized bookstore—with clerks and managers who really knew books...that’s a big loss.”