The Strand Opens Its Upper West Side Store; The Owner Explains What Books People are Seeking Out Today
Posted on July 15, 2020 at 11:10 am by West Sider
By Angela Barbuti
The Strand begins a new chapter today as the literary landmark opens the door to its second home. “After 93 years in business, we thought it was time to bring our good reads to the Upper West Side,” said third-generation-owner Nancy Bass Wyden.
A sibling to the iconic flagship store on East 12th Street, it was slated to open at 450 Columbus Avenue, between 81st and 82nd Streets, in early April, but the COVID-19 pandemic halted that original plan.
Many locals have shown the store support as it prepared to open, said Bass Wyden, whose grandfather opened the store in 1927. “The neighborhood outpouring has been amazing. We went to a community board meeting and everybody applauded us,” she said. “People have been stopping by, knocking on the door and they want to look inside.”
When asked how they will be prioritizing the wellness of shoppers during this time, she replied, “We are following Governor Cuomo’s safety checklist that includes lots of cleaning, masks, and 20 people max allowed in the entire store. But luckily with two floors, there is plenty of space to spread out.” For one thing, there will be masks available, because during the hiatus she launched a line of them, with a dollar from each sale donated to the Robin Hood Foundation. “We released three different ones, which then sold out immediately. But we have plenty of masks at Columbus. I just put them out,” she said.
In keeping with the Strand tradition, they will be selling new books mixed with used and rare titles. The ground floor is filled with shelves and tables, some they built themselves, and others that remained from the previous tenant, Book Culture. There will be an award winners’ table, one for puzzles and games, and another for “Best of the Best,” which are staff favorites.
The basement is devoted to the children’s section, with a space-themed nook erected in homage to the Museum of Natural History. “With schools and camps being closed, we realize the importance of having access to a great collection of real books,” the mother of three explained. The young adult, foreign language, nature, science, and philosophy sections are also housed on the lower level. Outside, there will be two of their famous discount carts for sidewalk browsing.
While her staff, whom Bass Wyden called “dedicated, hardworking, and literary,” waited to open this location and reopen their East Village one on June 22nd, they continued selling their collection online. The Strand has seen slow foot traffic at its downtown store, prompting the company to lay off some employees who had been rehired, but Bass Wyden is optimistic that the Upper West Side store will attract strong interest.
As for what books have been trending during the quarantine, she first noted an increase in sales of titles related to the Black Lives Matter movement. Works that have been adapted for television, such as “Little Fires Everywhere,” “Normal People,” and “Dune,” are also selling well. “I think people just want a little bit of an easy read, a little bit of escapism,” she said. “Then we have a big push of people who love classics, such as “Jane Eyre,” Dickens, and “War and Peace.” That’s our literary, bookish crowd, wanting to go into the past and dive into quality literature.” Another area that is thriving is the cookbook section, with Alison Roman’s “Nothing Fancy” and “Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat” by Samin Nosrat topping the list.
Their expansion into a new brick-and-mortar will add to the Strand’s rich history. Bass Wyden’s grandfather, Benjamin Bass, initially opened the shop on Fourth Avenue, part of the six blocks between Union Square and Astor Place referred to as “Book Row,” because of the 48 bookstores that populated the area. “He was so proud of the store. I think it got to a scale that he never thought was possible,” she said. The Strand, which was named after a street in London, was the only bookstore there to survive.
A New York native, her earliest memories take place in the stacks. “I remember going with my mom and opening up the door and just feeling that it was magical to see my dad and grandpa there and being able to head back to the kids’ section and seeing all the beautiful, candy-colored books.” Being the child of frugal parents who lived through the Depression, she was also elated to be allowed to pick out anything she wanted. At six years old, she began her future career by sharpening pencils, and officially started working there at 17 with her father, Fred, who passed away two years ago. “I had such a close relationship with him. He gave me so much respect and really taught me and gave me a lot of responsibilities and areas to grow,” she said.
After she became involved in the family business, one of the projects she took on was modernizing their tote bags. “Before I was there, we had a tote bag that had the Strand name and address and even the zip code and phone number. I was like, ‘Why are you doing this?’” she recalled, laughing. “I took the tote bags and made them more stylish.” To commemorate the Columbus Avenue store’s opening, customers will receive a free “Strand at Columbus” tote with a purchase of $75 or more.
Photos by Amy Herny and Lindsey Novakovic via The Strand.
11 am, opening day.
By Carol Tannenhauser and Kate Koza
The much-anticipated opening today of The Strand, an outpost of the legendary downtown bookstore, was disrupted by protestors marching in a circle in front of the new store, at 450 Columbus Avenue, between 81st and 82nd Streets.
“We get sick, they get rich!” they chanted. “Whose Strand? Our Strand!”
”We’re the ones who make this store what it is,” said a young masked protester named Matthew. “We’re the ones with the passion for books.”
“I don’t have health care,” Matthew shouted over the din and through his mask.
Protesters explained their frustrations to a group of onlookers, citing dissatisfaction with the work environment and levels of compensation, as well as more pointed criticisms of the store’s decision to lay off workers during NYC’s COVID-19 lockdown while applying for and receiving over one million dollars in Paycheck Protection loan support.
While some laid-off workers were rehired upon the store’s gradual resumption of operations — and Wyden has previously stated that her goal is to rehire all 188 laid-off staff members — protesters claimed the rehirings weren’t extensive enough and didn’t address other concerns, including Wyden’s ownership of $115,000 in Amazon stock, which she has described previously as an income-generating endeavor to put money back into her own stores. It was also announced earlier this week that 12 employees who were recently rehired would once again be laid off due to what Wyden acknowledged had been overly optimistic hopes for foot traffic upon reopening.
The chanting was loud and coordinated.
Some onlookers seemed hesitant to physically cross through the group of protesters and enter the store; others entered, seemingly eager to explore the reopened space and support a local, independent business in what has long been a proudly book-loving neighborhood.
“I was thrilled to be the very first customer, and I’m happy and proud,” said a local woman. “But don’t use my name until I hear the details of the protest,” she added.
Nancy Bass Wyden and customer.
“When we opened up, we weren’t able to hire back everyone,” she said. “It was economics. I was thrilled to be able to open at all with a bare minimum staff, after 93 years. My father and I had looked for locations. He died two years ago.”
“My mother just died a month ago. She was older and the isolation didn’t help.” Wyden turned to greet a customer.
“Do you buy used books here?” he asked.
“Not yet, but we will,” Wyden responded.
It was hard to hear her over the chanting.