Shakespeare & Co. Booksellers takes its final bow on Broadway
When Margot Liddell started in 1987 as the manager of the new Shakespeare & Co. Booksellers on lower Broadway, near New York University, not even the books were safe in the now-upscale NoHo neighborhood.
“It was wild,” Liddell said about the neighborhood in her low, raspy voice. Book thieves weren’t uncommon, she said, and ran from Shakespeare & Co. to the nearby Strand Bookstore or St. Mark’s Bookshop to the east with stolen merchandise, hoping to sell the paperbacks for a small profit.
“I used to chase people,” Liddell said. “I’d chase them myself, with my staff.”
After serving the changing neighborhood and NYU community for 30 years, Shakespeare & Co. is closing. The longstanding shop, which Liddell remembers was once neighbored by vintage clothing shops Unique Boutique and Canal Jeans Co., lost its lease and saw a spike in rent, and closes for good on Sept. 6.
“We’re sort of the last bastion of élan,” said Liddell, who noted that big-box retailers such as Kmart, Banana Republic and McDonald’s are now more common in the area. “And now we won’t be here, either.”
Liddell retained hope for the future of the store when a prospective investor wanted to add a café to the existing shop, but he lost a bidding war to the new tenant, Foot Locker, which already operates a store on Waverly Place a block away.
“That’s what I guess people are lamenting,” Liddell said about the customer outcry she’s heard since the news hit. “Who wants another shoe store?”
Shakespeare & Co. opened its first shop on the Upper West Side in 1981, where Liddell worked before helping open the Broadway branch, and expanded to include locations in Gramercy, on Whitehall Street, on Lexington Avenue near Hunter College and near Brooklyn College. The stores served students by carrying textbooks for courses at many of the city’s colleges. With New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts just across the street, the Broadway branch catered to a performing arts crowd, and carried the second largest selection of plays in the city, behind The Drama Book Shop in Midtown. Over the years, many Tisch students stocked the store’s shelves and worked the registers.
Now, only the Lexington Avenue store remains, though the future of that outpost doesn’t seem certain. Liddell would only say that the lease and ownership of the remaining Shakespeare & Co. holdout is “under negotiation.”
Matt Pieknik is the director of marketing for independent book store McNally Jackson on Prince Street. He has managed the theater section at the store, and would send his customers to Shakespeare & Co. if he didn’t have what they wanted, calling it a “go-to place for folks who are part of the downtown theater scene.”
While McNally Jackson remains successful—a Williamsburg outpost is due to open this fall—Pieknik recognizes that the shuttering of Shakespeare & Co. on Broadway leaves a void.
“There’s a feeling whenever you see a well-established and well-beloved New York City business go, that you’re losing a very integral piece of the community,” said Pieknik. “Especially Shakespeare & Co., that has such a thoughtful collection and handwritten staff book reviews. It invites you to come in and linger, discover books and converse with folks who are enthusiastic about what you’re reading.”
For Liddell, who has been selling books since starting at Shakespeare & Co. on the Upper West Side in 1981, the loss is immediate.
“I haven’t addressed it yet,” she said as she continued to wait on customers who were snatching up discounted books during the store’s ‘everything must go’ sale. “I’m going to have to obviously get a job.”