Cooper Square Committee Protests Cooper Union Over St. Mark’s Bookshop Rent


Cooper Union held an inauguration ceremony today at noon for new president Jamshed Bharucha. In keeping with the revolutionary trend sweeping NYC, the Cooper Square Community Development Committee and Businessmen’s Association staged a rather low-key protest for the struggling St. Mark’s Bookshop at the ceremony, asking Cooper Union (their landlord) to lower their rent from $20,000 to $15,000 a month. There were about a dozen committee members present and passing out flyers. A few protestors also sang during the inauguration. Here are the lyrics of their song:

Oh give me the word
That we long to be heard
That the St. Mark’s Bookshop will be saved.

That you know it’s a gem.
With a stroke of your pen
That its’ future’s forever engraved.

It just needs less rent
And if that’s your intent
You will most likely earn
Real High Marks.

The protestors passed out two separate flyers: one orange, designed to give to Cooper Union students, staff, and faculty, and one white, for Cooper Union supporters. The orange urges those a part of the Cooper Union community to contact President Bharucha and ask that the St. Mark’s Bookshop’s rent be reduced. The white flyer details the store’s situation, what people can do to help, and what kinds of support it’s received. An excerpt:

St. Mark’s already pays a monthly rent of $20,00. It has cut its staff to the bone and the two owners both put in a 50-hour week and draw a small salary, supplemented by their Social Security checks.

Unless this exorbitant rent is reduced by at least $5,000 a month, (until the economy rebounds), this treasured bookshop is history.

We spoke with Joyce Ravitz, Chair of the Cooper Square Committee, and Frances Goldin, a founding member. Ravitz explained the thinking behind holding the protest at the inauguration. “We know that the alumni have a lot of influence on what the board of directors do,” she said. “And we figured there would be a lot of alumni at the inauguration. The students, whether they’re here now or graduated in 1941, care about the St. Mark’s Bookshop.”

The protestors are not directly connected to St. Mark’s Bookshop itself. Ravitz explained that “We know they want to lower their rent, but we don’t tell them all the plans for what we’re going to do. We let them know our plans, but it’s an independent protest.”

There has been a great deal of public support for St. Mark’s, according to Goldin. “I think this caught on so much because people are tired of mom and pop businesses closing,” she said. “People don’t want a Starbucks on every corner, or a bank. That’s not why they move to the Lower East Side.”

Goldin said that the petition to save the bookshop has garnered 43,000 signatures so far, though it’s slowed down recently. “A little while ago the owners were telling me it was like Christmas in September, so many people were coming in,” she said.

Goldin saw a connection between the situation with the Cooper Union and the Occupy Wall Street protests. “People are taking and not giving back… It’s about people who have a lot wanting even more.”

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