Customers rush to help New York's Strand bookstore after owner's plea

Martin Pengelly in New York
·3-min read

An appeal for help by the owner of the famous Strand bookstore, in New York City, has paid off at least in the short term: Nancy Bass Wyden reported 25,000 orders over the weekend, crashing the store website, and approaching $200,000 in sales.

Related: 'We cannot survive': New York's Strand bookstore appeals for help

Bass Wyden had said the store faced extinction, its business crushed by the coronavirus pandemic.

“How can I not love my book community for helping like this?” Bass Wyden told the Washington Post. “I really don’t think that we’re just a bookstore. I think we’re a place of discovery and a community centre. When I ask for help and they respond this fast, it’s so heartwarming.”

On Saturday, Bass Wyden posted to Twitter footage of a long line outside the flagship Strand store, on Broadway and East 12th in Manhattan, adding: “I just want to say thank you, New York, for today.”

Bass Wyden appealed for help last Friday. Though the famous store had “survived just about everything for 93 years”, she said, including “the Great Depression, two world wars, big box bookstores, ebooks and online behemoths … because of the impact of Covid-19, we cannot survive the huge decline in foot traffic, a near-complete loss of tourism and zero in-store events.”

Bass Wyden said her grandfather Benjamin Bass, who founded the Strand in 1927, and her father, Fred Bass, who died in 2018, would not want her to give up without a fight.

“We need to mobilise the community to buy from us so we can keep our doors open until there’s a vaccine,” she said.

The community mobilised. As the Post reported: “One woman in the Bronx bought 197 books. A dozen customers asked Strand to design their home libraries. Wyden’s 12-year-old daughter came in to pack books for online orders. In-store, Strand made $170,550 in sales on Saturday and Sunday, Wyden said. By comparison, it lost $316,000 in September.”

On Sunday, Bass Wyden posted a photo from inside the store, writing: “The team is hard at work … and we’re working on processing all your online orders! Thank you so much to all our supporters.”

Bass Wyden’s stewardship of the literary landmark, which promises “18 miles of books” over four floors and satellite locations, has not always been smooth.

The store has publicly faced off with unionised workers, and this year Bass Wyden was widely criticised for furloughing staff while buying at least $115,000 of stock in Amazon, one of the “online behemoths” she cited as a challenge to the Strand.

The stock purchase was revealed through disclosures necessitated by Bass Wyden’s marriage to Ron Wyden, a Democratic US senator from Oregon.

“I was a small-business owner, and everything got shut down with my income,” Bass Wyden told the Post about the start of the pandemic in March, when New York was hit hard.

“No website. No bookstores. I was just thinking that I should diversify my personal portfolio and invest in stocks that are performing. I have to keep my own resources going to keep the Strand going. Those are interconnected. We used up all the money that we put aside.

“I saw there was an economic opportunity. The stocks were very, very low, and I picked stocks as a businessperson that I thought would thrive.”

The Strand furloughed 188 staff, received federal emergency funds, brought some workers back, reopened with a new venue on the Upper West Side, faced protests and continued to struggle commercially.

Bass Wyden told the Post she hoped the Strand would survive until the end of the year, when she would re-evaluate its future.