We would like to thank everyone who attended the rally on Friday to bid farewell to Rizzoli Booktore on its final day. We are especially grateful for Community Board Five for organizing the rally and State Senator Liz Krueger for speaking passionately about the need to protect small businesses from over-development.
The departure of Rizzoli represents a significant turning point for 57th Street. The street’s historic character and beloved local businesses are rapidly being lost to make way for architecturally bland mega-towers for billionaires. Emblematic of what is happening across our city, the closure of one of Midtown’s last independent bookstores is part of a larger trend that has witnessed countless smaller businesses being pushed out to make room for luxury residential development and retail chain stores.
We are deeply disappointed with the Landmarks Preservation Commission over their obstinate refusal to at least schedule a public hearing for this building’s interior and exterior. Given the tremendous public outcry to save this building, we believe it is only fair that a public hearing be held and the full Commission decide in an up or down vote whether to designate it a landmark.
The LPC is not infallible. The Landmarks Law provides for public hearings as a means of correcting glaring oversights by the LPC staff. Notably, it took no less than five public hearings before the LPC voted to designate the former Sohmer Piano Factory in Queens an individual landmark. Their current refusal to even consider this building for landmark designation does not indicate a lack of merit.
We are especially disgusted by actions undertaken by Vornado and LeFrak that have proven detrimental to Rizzoli’s business and have undermined a fair landmarks evaluation. According to our sources, these actions include:
- Vornado erected a sidewalk shed and screen in front of the store’s exterior during the store’s busiest retail period under the fiction of “cleaning the facade,” directly weakening store traffic and net sales. In truth, the alteration permits obtained by Vornado were requested solely for the purposes of preemptive demolition and not for necessary restoration changes.
- Vornado’s contractors preemptively demolished exterior portions of 31 W 57th Street less than 24 hours before The New York Times first announced plans to demolish the building. This includes the complete obliteration of the third floor and sixth floor limestone balustrades (video).
- On several occasions, Vornado aggressively sought to assert their influence with the Rizzoli parent company to silence bookstore staff from speaking out about the Save Rizzoli petition. These threats to the Rizzoli corporate offices came from none other than Vornado President David R. Greenbaum.
- The appearance of Vornado CEO Steve Roth in the bookstore on April 10th to take advantage of a 40% closing sale, by his very presence smugly gloating over the LPC’s refusal to designate the interior. Such behavior shows a willful disregard for the emotional state of bookstore staff already under stress over the loss of their jobs and potential destruction of their historic building.
- The installation of a plywood fence across the storefront only minutes after Rizzoli’s final closing, depriving the bookstore of their valuable window space that could have been used to advertise their new location. This was undertaken to hide Vornado’s dirty work from public scrutiny. Rizzoli still has several weeks remaining on their lease.
The Save Rizzoli Committee will continue to actively fight to save this building and work with Borough President Gale Brewer to achieve greater transparency in the LPC.