Just three months after Bill Barker and Stanley Newman bought the gay and lesbian bookstore chain A Different Light Bookstore (Bookselling, Feb. 12), with locations in New York, San Francisco and West Hollywood, the two decided to close the New York store.
"We recognized that there were more challenges with the New York store when we bought the chain," Barker told PW. "Rent in Manhattan is outrageous. When I first saw the rent, I thought there was an error, that it must be for two months' rent."
Other stumbling blocks included constant road construction outside the store and the fact that the space was too large to support the bookstore. "We were in negotiation with [independent video rental chain] TLA Video to share half our space and rent," Barker said.
The bookstore had previously subleased its basement level to the media center Dyke TV and the newspaper LGNY (Lesbian and Gay New York). According to the New York Times, the subleasers sued A Different Light and TLA Video when their lease was not renewed. This made it impossible for TLA to begin construction on its half of the store. "If we had been able to get TLA into the store, it could have given us more oxygen to survive," said Barker.
Troy Masters, publisher of LGNY, told PW that the lawsuit was filed after TLA Video told A Different Light that it didn't want to share the space and wanted LGNY and Dyke TV out. According to the New York Blade, Dyke TV had a one-year lease through February 28, 2001, with no option for renewal and LGNY was on a month-to-month lease. On January 9, the New York Supreme Court issued a temporary restraining order enjoining A Different Light and TLA Video from ejecting LGNY and Dyke TV and from commencing or continuing with renovations. "It was just not financially feasible for us to keep the store open," said Barker.
"It's a disappointment and a shock to see the New York store close," Norman Laurila, founder and former owner of the A Different Light chain told PW. "I don't know the particulars because I've not been involved in the management since I left in December. I thought the deal was all agreed to and set. What it amounts to now is a worst case scenario: LGNY and Dyke TV lose out, TLA doesn't get to expand and A Different Light closes. That's a tragedy. It was a deal that should have worked for them all and too bad it didn't."
"I don't want to leave with a trail of negativity," said Barker. "I wouldn't rule out coming back to New York in a year or two. But right now New York has several good gay and lesbian bookstores."
Two of the oldest in the city were disappointed but had theories. "I'm sad to hear about A Different Light," said Vincent Migliore, owner of the 10-year-old Creative Visions, the gay and lesbian bookstore located in A Different Light's former location in Greenwich Village.
Migliore believes that for any specialty store, location is key. "The Village still has a population that prefers to shop in the Village and that has helped us."
"In a city of eight million people it's a shame that three gay-lesbian bookstores aren't thriving," Kim Brinster, manager of New York's oldest gay and lesbian bookstore, Oscar Wilde Bookshop, told PW. "It's a decision that the gay-lesbian community has to make. If they want gay and lesbian bookstores around, then they have to support them. We can point at location and rent and B&N and Amazon.com, but we have to look at our community."
The 27-year-old bookstore had four full-time employees, two of whom had worked there for eight and 10 years. Barker said he and Newman will focus their attention on the two remaining stores as well as on rebuilding the chain's Web site (www.adlbooks.com), which will relaunch on May 1, enhanced for easier shopping. "We want the Web site to be an additional resource for our customers," said Barker. "But the bookstores will remain the heart of our business."