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What Happened to Rizzoli International Bookstores? Part III

Charles V. Bagli wrote in The New York Times on January 14, 2014, “Twenty-nine years ago, Rizzoli Bookstore, whose Old World charm, hand-wrought chandeliers and big storefront windows make it a favorite of noted authors, book lovers and tourists, fled Fifth Avenue two steps ahead of the wrecking ball.”

It may now have to take flight again.

The owners of the building at 31 West 57th Street… that houses Rizzoli — the LeFrak real estate family and Vornado Realty Trust — recently gave the bookstore the bad news: They plan to demolish the six-story, 109-year-old building, as well as two small, adjoining buildings.

The owners declined to describe their plans on 57th Street, where a string of extremely tall and slender ultraluxury towers are under construction.

He also noted, “Seven years ago, another favorite, the Gotham Book Mart on East 46th Street, closed. The grand Doubleday and Scribner’s bookstores that once lined Fifth Avenue are long gone. Many others have also shut.”[1] Bagli broke the story on the newspaper’s Web site and it appeared in the paper the next day, the 15th of January.

On Thursday, January 16, 2014, Rizzoli New York stated, “Following news stories about the pending demolition of the building housing its New York flagship store, Rizzoli would like to clarify the situation.”

The Rizzoli Bookstore is, and will remain, open for business at its current location for the time being, though the company is actively seeking new space.

For almost fifty years—twenty-nine in its current 57th Street location—Rizzoli Bookstore has been widely considered one of the foremost independent booksellers in America specializing in illustrated books on architecture, interior design, fashion, photography, cookery, and the fine and applied arts, as well as literature, and foreign language books. Rizzoli Bookstore has been, and will continue to be a literary landmark in New York City, and a celebrated destination for important authors and booklovers from all over the world.

Rizzoli has been touched by the outpouring of public appreciation for the 57th Street bookstore as an important part of New York City’s cultural life, and looks forward to remaining a vital part of the city’s fabric for many decades to come…

On April 4, 2014, Rizzoli New York stated, “We have truly appreciated the outpouring of support from so many of you as we enter the transition from the Rizzoli Bookstore’s longtime home on W. 57th Street to our next chapter. We have been scouting out new locations in Manhattan, and are delighted to report that we have seen several very promising spaces. While our 57th Street location will close its doors this month, we are looking forward to remaining a vital part of the city’s cultural fabric for many years to come. Please check here and on www.RizzoliBookstore.com for updates.”

Mathew Katz pointed out “Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer filed an application last month to give landmark status to the 109-year-old building's interior after the commission declined to protect the building as a whole. The building's owners, the Lefrak family and the Vornado Realty Trust, have said they will tear down the building after Rizzoli moves out of it on Friday.”

He quoted Landmarks Preservation Commission spokeswoman Damaris Olivo as saying, “Some original interior fabric remaining from the Sohmer Piano showroom, such as the decorative ceiling and iron railings, was incorporated into the new design… Our review concluded that because there are few remaining elements from the piano showroom era, particularly in comparison with other intact interior landmark spaces like the Steinway Piano showroom on West 57th Street, the site no longer retains the integrity of its original design, and the ca. 1985 redesign of the space does not rise to the level of an interior designation.”

Katz described the state of Rizzoli Bookstore on its last day as customers streamed in and out to see the place for the last time and take advantage of the 40% off sale for DNAinfo New York on Friday, April 11, 2014. He also related that Community Board 5 organized a rally outside Rizzoli Bookstore, which State Senator Liz Krueger joined. A petition on Chang.org to preserve the Rizzoli Bookstore has been signed by 17,044 people.

[1] Note that the landlords of the Gotham Book Mart who forced its closure because the store’s owner, Andreas Brown, had fallen behind with the rent, acquired the stock of books, which was worth millions of dollars, for $400,000 at auction, as Sewell Chan explained in a New York Times blog in 2009. An anonymous donor subsequently donated 200,000 items to the University of Pennsylvania Libraries, which announced they would go to the Rare Book & Manuscript Library as the Gotham Book Mart Collection.