After Barnes & Noble announced last week that it would close its Bronx location--which also happens to be the only physical bookstore in the borough--local politician Ruben Diaz Jr. stepped in, brokering a deal to keep the store in place. PW caught up with Diaz to talk about why he put his political weight behind the deal, and what can be done to encourage booksellers to come to the Bronx.
You intervened when Barnes & Noble couldn’t come to terms with its landlord to keep its Bronx location open. Why?
This bookstore is important to The Bronx. We are shoppers, but that doesn’t mean we just buy clothing and music. We have intellectual capacity in The Bronx, and this bookstore plays a major role in that. My office got calls and e-mails from every corner of the borough, not just from the surrounding area, and we moved to negotiate this compromise.
In this day and age, when so many people shop online, why do you think any community needs a bricks-and-mortar bookstore?
It’s important to have a place like this, dedicated to scholarship and learning, where anyone can go to pick up a new biography or a cookbook or something for their children to read. It’s important to our image. We are a community of 1.4 million people, and to not have a bookstore within our borders would have been unacceptable.”
The last indie bookstore in the Bronx, Books in the Hood, closed in 2011. Why is it so difficult for bookstores to stay afloat in the borough?
I think it’s symptomatic of the entire industry, and not really representative of anything about The Bronx specifically. The way people shop has changed. We’re moving towards a more digital, online economy, which has already dramatically changed the way we watch movies at home and is now changing how we read. But we are a borough of voracious readers. You can see that is true from the reaction to this potential closing. If booksellers come to The Bronx, they’ll find us waiting with open arms.
For communities like the Bronx, where bricks-and-mortar bookstores are either limited or nonexistent, what do you think community members and local politicians can do to reverse the situation?
We need to be more aggressive in seeking out booksellers for available space. And we need to develop new partnerships that include booksellers as part of other businesses, like cafes or restaurants. We love to read in The Bronx, we always have. And we’re ready to develop those partnerships. We’ve come a long way in The Bronx over the past three decades, and its time for all businesses—including booksellers—to take notice.