Great old indie bookstore in St Louis faces demolition as town considers proposal to site an industrial storage facility on its lot

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30 Responses to “Great old indie bookstore in St Louis faces demolition as town considers proposal to site an industrial storage facility on its lot”

  1. Tim H says:

    Visiting the Book House is the one thing I am certain to do every time I visit St. Louis.  I grew up with the place, it’s positively magic.  Even relocating the store would fundamentally change the character of the place – no more smelly basement with twenty five cent paperbacks, no crazy stairwells, no nothing.  We need bookstores you can get lost in, and when the Book House goes there’ll be one less. 

    • Matthew Schmeer says:

       Same here. I take my kids every time we go back to STL. I grew up in Webster Groves and often rode my bike to the Book House to spend hours pouring over paperbacks before I plunked down my cash for a stack of 70s SciFi or pulp fiction from the 1950 through 1960s. I collected quite a stash of Fleming 007 books from there . . . I wish I still had them . . .

  2. 10xor01 says:

    “Progress”

  3. hyperfocal says:

    I’d hope the bookstore proprietors would try and buy the property themselves.

  4. Sadly, it is the prerogative of the owner of the building. At some time in the past, was it not a desire of the business owner to own the building that the business was in so this kind of thing would not happen?

    • cubby96 says:

      Agreed.  Have seen this happen more than once to small independent bookstores (and other independent retailers).  If you don’t own the building, all of the foot traffic you generate and neighborhood/community building you do can be taken back by the landlord at the end of your lease term.  Usually, it is done through higher rents rather than demolishing the building for another use,but both certainly happen.

      An example: http://boingboing.net/2009/07/10/pages-books-in-toron.html

  5. Alan Andrews says:

    What is sad is all the people willing to trample on someone’s property rights to make themselves feel good.  If you feel that strongly about it, raise money and buy the place from the owner. I’m sure he’d entertain a better offer.   Don’t try to get the government to do your dirty work.

    • xzzy says:

      On the other hand, if it’s a 150 year old victorian mansion and has been decently preserved, perhaps it’d be worth putting on a historic registry. 

      Society has decided that there is a point where preserving culture becomes more important than preserving the rights of a landowner. Without knowing more about this building I can’t say if we’re at that point, but it’s an avenue worth considering.

      • Gilbert Wham says:

        Came here to say this. I’m of the opinion that a house  with that level of history would be a listed building and very difficult to knock down here in the UK. Not impossible, by any means, but unlikely.

        • adrienne says:

          That’s very possible. The only issue with it here is that Saint Louis actually has a LOT of well-preserved 150-year-old Victorians. :) It’s kind of a theme. So getting any individual one preserved can actually be a hard sell, especially since the city governments of a lot of these little townships are strapped for revenue…

  6. Bradley Robinson says:

    I smell a Kickstarter on the horizon. 

  7. Michael Kemery says:

    Grew up a few miles from the Bookhouse.  Loved that place.  Bookhouse, Provel, and toasted ravoli are some of my memories of St Louis.  This would/will be a great loss.

    • Ripcord2 says:

      What I’ve learned here is that everyone has lived in (including me!) or visited St Louis, but no one lives there anymore :)

  8. dpamac says:

    This place is fantastic! We can’t let it go. Google Maps lets you see inside: https://www.google.com/maps?layer=c&z=17&sll=38.608703,-90.369594&cid=6606381871709381813&panoid=Caebp9gSecxc4pTMa3LuPw&cbp=13,165.82586427656852,,0,0&q=the+bookhouse+st+louis&sa=X&ei=fOp-Udu5LsmdrAGhv4CoAw&ved=0CI8BEKAfMAk

  9. capnmarrrrk says:

    I found a bound galley copy of Eric Idle’s “Road to Mars” in that smelly basement. 2 bucks! A wonderful place to browse, pet cats and look for ghosts. It would be criminal to tear that the Book House down.

  10. The bookstore’s owners need to do a really fast job of :

    * getting the building landmarked.
    * fighting any sort of (re)zoning and variances granted
    * mobilizing the community with a  “not in my backyard” campaigns , and getting the community outraged that they want to store dangerous deadly hazardous chemicals that are definitively linked to causing cancer in children  so close to a school.

    If the building gets landmarked or rezoning/variances are stopped, you effectively limit what can be done with the land and the sale value of the lot.  

    The landlord is looking for a quick sale , and the lot + demolition seems to be an affordable option for the storage company.  The owners need to make it a long & expensive process.

    I don’t know what would be better or worse for the community — the jobs this bookstore offers or the ones that the storage company offers — but I hate sleazy landlords and this guy sounds like one.

    • wygit says:

       What did you read about him that makes him sound like a sleazy landlord?
      What did he do, aside from try and sell his land, that you hate him for?

      All I saw was -
      Apparently, the landlord is an “older guy who just wants to sell the property,”

      Maybe he NEEDS to sell the property. So you’re going to tell him he can’t sell it? Are you going to pay him for it? Did anyone else offer to buy it?

      • thornebrandt says:

        OP Here –  We’re not saying the landlord is sleazy. There’s not really a bad guy here.  We’d love to buy the property, but it’s simply not financially available to us. Running an independent bookstore is a for-love endeavor. The only leverage we have is support of the community.  We don’t have many other options besides raising awareness. 

        Personally, I think that demolishing this famously-haunted, tourist-attracting, locally-run, charity-affiliated, historical building in place of a storage facility is not only bad taste, but simply poor planning.  Especially since there are literally hundreds of vacant properties around the area that seem like they would more adequately serve as a venue for such an industrial facility.  I have a hard time understanding why this particular property was chosen. It’s supposedly above a cave and potentially a sink-hole. It’s not friendly terrain, relative to the flat vacant lot across the street. Plus, it’s haunted, so if you demolish it, the next thing you put there will have a curse on it.  But in all seriousness, what I’m trying to say here is that I believe that it’s in the interest of everyone involved to let the Book House stand. 

        • wygit says:

           I was replying to the previous commenter who WAS calling the landlord sleazy.
          I feel for you, and wish there was a way to save great old buildings and businesses, I was around in Sacramento when the Alhambra Theater was torn down and replaced by a Safeway.
          http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alhambra_Theatre_%28Sacramento%29
          It was tragic. Huge old Moorish building with red velver curtains, gold trim, a sky ceiling… There was a bond measure to buy the place for the city, but it failed. (Hey, Ronald Reagan was governor then)
          But there were no bad guys there, (except maybe the people who campaigned against the bond measure).
          The owner couldn’t afford the upkeep on the place anymore, and nobody wanted to buy it as a theater.
          There was a lot of hatred for Safeway for a long time, but all they did was buy an empty lot and put a store there.

  11. SKR says:

    I would think the point of leverage would be whether the tenant can come up with the money to purchase the property. But then I guess it’s easier to just cry about it and hope the city steps in on your behalf. It’s certainly a lot cheaper.

    • Having been in a similar situation before, when sketchy landlords try to do a quick-sale, they will often not focus on price but focus on speed of sale and “all cash” transactions.  The buildings largely end up sold to developers and commercial entities , who are largely interested in the land ( to raze ) and don’t care about most of the random points during the transaction’s closing.

      If you’re a tenant that is an interested buyer, your best option to compete is to push for legislation that limits usage of the property to those you favor — but reduces the sale-ability to your competitors.  This is no different than a condo developer purchasing a parcel of land for $250k , then lobbying the city council for a rezoning that allows for high-rise buildings — allowing that land to now sell for $25MM or to build a 20-60 story luxury high rise  ( happens in major cities all the time ).

      The bookstore owner definitely has to raise funds to purchase the land,  but I see nothing wrong with using every available means to depreciate the value & utility of the land to currently interested buyers.  

      • wygit says:

        I hope someone returns the favor someday when you’re trying to raise money and they use “every available means to depreciate the value & utility” of whatever it is you’re trying to sell.

        I really don’t understand what you saw in the story that makes him a “sketchy” landlord.

        • Gilbert Wham says:

           Pretty much everyone does exactly that all the time, don’t they? Otherwise shit wouldn’t get sold.

  12. travtastic says:

    Why does everyone hate industrial storage so much? I remember when I was growing up, I used to spend hours roaming the shelves, picking skids at random, memorizing bar code location stickers, getting cancer from toxic fumes. What’s a book, anyway?

  13. nnu-16121 says:

    If one clicks through it appears that:
    - the sale to the development company has completed.
    - they are claiming to be sensitive to the needs of the current tenants of this and neighboring buildings, suggesting that moves to similar buildings across the street might be optimal, and that moving the building is not out of the question.

    I find it a bit scary that the first response to “we don’t like what someone is doing” is authoritarian “use government regulation to take it from them” talk.

    • thornebrandt says:

      Can you point me where it says the sale to the development company has been completed? 
      You second point refers to an diplomatic statement to the press that really doesn’t hold much water or affect any outcome.   These developers have said a lot of things to a lot of people.  It really doesn’t matter how “sensitive” they are.

      The whole point of this is that we’re trying to influence their decision.  If there are other available spaces, we are encouraging the developers to consider those.  We’re also asking for help from the community. I don’t really see what’s authoritarian about that. 

      • nnu-16121 says:

        Thornebrandt –
        It is this bit of the Publisher’s Weekly article that gives that impression:
        “According to Michelle Barron, the store’s founding owner, plans are in
        place by a developer who recently purchased the property…”.

  14. gws says:

    I went to high school in Brentwood and my family lived about a mile and a half from the store. There’s a poetry “cave” upstairs that is really magical. The Book House is a great place and a cultural landmark, and I hate that I’m cynical about what Rock Hill will do/not do to save it, based on all the other changes that have happened on that stretch of Manchester Road. 

    My heart really goes out to the family, who I know from when I lived and worked in the neighborhood, and to the cat(s), and to all the readers who will no longer have a local bookstore to support. I signed your petition, Thorne. Good luck.

  15. A brief update – the sale has not been finalized; a 90-day eviction was served, i.e., the end of July, by the potential seller/owner. A rally is planned, and the petition is currently at 1244 signatures.

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