The Gotham Book Mart's Final Chapter?

How the literary landmark came tumbling down—and its hopes to live again

"He was reluctant to sell," Soter claims of Brown. "He preferred looking at the books." There's bemusement in Soter's voice, as if he's talking about an odd but beloved uncle. "He didn't even know how to run the cash register."

But if Brown can't ring up a sale, he hasn't had trouble attracting the wealthy to support the store. In the late '70s, there was a loan from Joanne Carson, Johnny Carson's second ex-wife, to the tune of $1 million—a sum arranged through Truman Capote, who was living with Joanne at the time and had heard from Brown, a friend, that Gotham was struggling. A significant loan, too, came from the store's revered former manager, Joycean scholar Phil Lyman, as well as one (according to city records) for $400,000 from Lauder. While the deals would help keep Gotham afloat at the time, they'd later put holes in the hull. In the last decade, Carson, Lyman's estate (Phil had died in 1999), and Lauder all went to court against Brown in separate cases to claim owed money—the first two leading, in part, to the sale of 41 West 47th Street, which went to the store's neighbor, jeweler Boris Aronov, for $7.2 million.

"Everyone said, 'What did he do with it? He must still be loaded,'" says Soter. "The point is, he didn't really have $7 million." It went to pay off the loans and their interest, and some of it was funneled back to Aronov, who had started charging Brown rent after Gotham stayed beyond the agreed-upon exit. "We kept telling Andy to buy an apartment, downsize, get a warehouse, something. . . forget retail bookselling . . . But he liked the power of Gotham—people coming into his office. Tom Stoppard called! Gwyneth Paltrow!"

Beloved by Joyceans, not landlords
photo: Patricia Sener
Beloved by Joyceans, not landlords

Even with warnings from the court, even with all the money he still owed, Brown didn't believe, Soter says, "that it would ever come down to him being kicked out. . . . He had to leave stuff he never dreamed he'd ever part with."

But don't issue a death certificate just yet. If "something's cooking"—if the lawyers are apparently still talking to each other—then the 87-year-old legend might get another chapter, in which we learn that Andreas Brown and Gotham never really perished in the Falls.

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