St. Mark's Bookshop Turns To Crowdfunding In Fight For Survival

At a rally last fall in New York’s East Village celebrating the end of a long battle between the 35-year old St. Mark’s Bookshop and its landlord, Cooper Union, Manhattan Borough President Scott M. Stringer praised the school's decision to reduce the store’s rent, allowing St. Mark's to fend off foreclosure. He told crowds that he was confident the deal would help keep the beloved shop open for “another 35 years!”

Stringer was wrong.

For St. Mark’s Bookshop, the rent is once again too damn high. The store has tried all sorts of things to save itself, from layoffs to cash mobs. But nothing has delivered the kind of sustainable cash flow it needs to afford the $23,000 monthly rent that’s set to kick in come November.

Enter crowdfunding, a fundraising tool that allows entrepreneurs to collect small sums of money from many people over the Internet.

In its time of need, St. Mark’s Bookshop is turning to Lucky Ant, one of several crowdfunding platforms that exclusively targets Main Street. Unlike Kickstarter and IndieGoGo, larger crowdfunding portals that provide services to a diverse set of fundraisers, from filmmakers to non-profits, Lucky Ant works specifically with local businesses to generate donations from folks in their neighborhoods.

The $23,000 fundraising goal that St. Mark’s Bookshop set for itself on Lucky Ant won’t save its current location. Store owners made the painful decision last Spring to move the shop to a cheaper location in the East Village. But landlords won’t give them the time of day if they can’t show that they have the funds to cover a down payment.

“That’s why we’re trying to raise the money,” said Terry McCoy, co-owner of the store. “It’s very hard to look at spaces when you don’t have any money in the bank. It’s like you’re not a serious client.”

With 16 days left to go, the store has raised $6,135 of its $23,000 goal. McCoy is cautiously optimistic. He recognizes that there are strings attached.

As is common with crowdfunding campaigns, people who pledge money to the store are eligible for discounts they can redeem if the goal is reached. A $10 donation gets the giver a $10 gift certificate, while a $500 donation gets 15 percent off all purchases at the bookshop for a full year. On top of that, Lucky Ant takes a cut of the final amount raised, though both sides declined to comment on how much.

“It’s not free money, but it will give us a little bit of a start,” McCoy said. “The people seem to be optimistic that we’re doing fine.”

St. Mark's Bookshop's Lucky Ant page.