By Roger Paradiso
I checked in with Jim Drougas and the Unoppressive Non-Imperialist Bargain Books store on Carmine Street off Bleecker. Back in June of 2021, he had told me he was closing the shop on July 1, 2022.
“What’s happened?” I asked him recently.
“We had been negotiating to stay and get a new lease with the new owners since the summer of 2021. We actually agreed to get out at the end of June 2022,” Jim explained. “Then they finally offered us a deal we could not refuse which included six months free rent going forward from December and letting us off the hook for the back rent. My lawyer did a great job of getting us that much though it took many months to get the deal on paper and signed. I felt that the partner was sincerely apologetic about shutting us down at the end.”
What are the politicians thinking and doing? They claim small business is the backbone of our economy. Not here in the West Village or in any similar Village around the country. The landlord drives the show in these villages. What the politicians and landlords see is unlimited rent and gentrification. But what happens when all the artists and mom and pops leave?
I asked Jim what he’s been doing since July. “Mostly taking some time off and going to my place in Vermont. The Vermont home is in a small town of about 1,200 people in the precise geocentric location of Vermont,” he explained. “We have bookshops and cafes with espresso, a huge lovely square green, and an ancient opera house and cemetery. There’s also a nice little supermarket and hardware shop, bike shop and youth hostel, art gallery and gift shops.”
“Are you thinking of moving your book store to Vermont?” I asked.
“At first, I thought about a string of small bookshops on Main Street but we already have two. Whatever I would do in Vermont, I would still need a main store here in the city,” Jim said.
I asked “What does the future hold for finding a West Village home for your iconic bookstore? I know you would love to find a new home in the Village.”
“I only need to find the right partner or partners to go in together on the right spot. Every time I turn my head now there is a better offer out there,” said Jim “It is heartwarming to see landlords finally knuckling down under a sense of reality and surrendering to the impulse to give up on the idea of extreme greed for a sense of fair play.
“Though indeed it’s only because they have no choice,” he continued. “There are still many who hold the line at ridiculous high prices and sometimes get a sucker to take it, but those renters fail very quickly when they realize what a mistake they made.
“I do see a bright future ahead of small businesses as a result. Finally, the landlords see being defeated, not with laws or pressure of the market as much as sheer force of history.”
But in the end, there is no place for the old charm of the Village in the current Village. The mom-and-pop shops are being displaced one by one. And in their place, we have banks, chain stores and condos.