1/23/2009

Librairie Française To Close In Manhattan

Found in RFI:
The Librairie Française at New York's Rockefeller Center will close in September after 73 years in midtown Manhattan, as the store's rent jumps from $360,000 (258,000 euros) to a million dollars (716,000 euros) a year. The bookstore opened in 1935 at the invitation of David Rockefeller, who wanted Europeans to be part of his new office building.

Bookstore owner Emmanuel Molho, says the family-owned business's difficulties are due not only to the rise of on-line buying but also to the changes at Rockefeller Center itself.

With exclusive boutiques, selling clothes, cosmetics and electronics to tourists, "the Center has become a shopping mall," he told the AFP news agency.

Molho's father, Isaac, who arrived in America in 1928 from Athens, had attended a French school there. His contacts in Paris with the French publisher Hachette led him to David Rockefeller, and the idea of a French bookstore in the middle of Manhattan was launched.

During World War II the bookstore published French authors, such as André Maurois, Jules Romains and Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, who had fled the German occupation of France.

The shop flourished throughout the 1960s, with more than 50 employees. Books arrived by the shipload on board steamers such as the France.

The shop was a literary salon as well as a store for US and south American francophiles.

"In those years we would order 3,000 copies of the Prix Goncourt literary prize winner," said Molho. "Today, we don't have more than ten copies in stock."

The Molho family tried repeatedly to interest the French government in their plight, but to no avail.

"When French President Nicolas Sarkozy came to dinner at Rockefeller Center last September, he didn't even cross our threshhold," Molho said.

3 comments:

Unfrench Frenchman said...

AFP story

America's most famous French bookstore to down shutters

Jan 2, 2009

NEW YORK (AFP) — America's most famous French bookstore will close its doors this year after 73 years in business, unable to bear a staggering rent increase in New York's Rockefeller Center.

Outside the Librairie de France, hordes of tourists take pictures of the Center, its ice-skating rink and tree, but inside one of the first retail tenants, the shelves are slowly emptied of books.

The reason for closing this venerable institution located at one of America's most cherished retail addresses is a simple, albeit familiar one: the rent, which is due in September, is rising, from 360,000 dollars to a million dollars per year.

Online book sales at bargain prices and declining interest in foreign-language books have also affected the landmark Fifth Avenue business.

And in another sign of the times, most shoppers these days come to the area in search of clothes, cosmetics or electronics.

"Of course, we sell for 20 dollars a book that costs five euros (seven dollars) in Paris, but there are also shipping fees for online orders," says Emmanuel Molho, who manages the family-run bookstore with his two children.

"No, what changed is the whole bookstore culture and the Rockefeller Center has become no more than just a commercial center."

Molho's father, Isaac, immigrated to the United States in 1928 after he attended a French school in Athens and met officials from major French publishing house Hachette in Paris.

Isaac Molho opened his bookstore in 1935 at the invitation of the Rockefeller family, who wanted Europeans to occupy retail space in the extraordinary new building complex developed by the oil tycoon and real estate magnate John D. Rockefeller Jr.

During World War II, the bookstore also ran a publishing house, La Maison Francaise, that published authors fleeing Nazism such as Andre Maurois, Jules Romains and "The Little Prince" writer Antoine de Saint-Exupery.

"My uncle would print the books," Emmanuel Molho told AFP. The mock-ups were imitations of the "collection blanche," or white collection of French publishing giant Gallimard.

"The 1960s were the most glorious years. French was in fashion, we had 50 employees and we imported two tonnes of books every week."

People came here to talk literature and buy books, Molho recalled. "The clients were American Francophiles, visiting Latin American francophones. They stayed to chat. At the time, we imported at least 3,000 copies of the latest Goncourt (French literature) prize winner. Today, it's a few dozen at most."

In 1993, Molho closed another French bookstore he maintained in southern Manhattan, and a year later he shuttered another one in Los Angeles.

France, he said, gave him the cold shoulder despite the letters he sent to French culture minister Christine Albanel and French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who dined at Rockefeller Center in September but did not stop by the bookstore.

On top of the declining popularity of French-language books, the coup de grace came with staggering rent hikes. In 1980, half of the store's well-established space went to French cosmetics company L'Occitane.

Today, a few treasures can still be found in the basement: books that are out of print, old Michelin tour guides or women's fashion pages published in Paris in the 1920s.

Molho plans to retire in New York or perhaps take up piano, delegating to his daughter the task of taking the family business online.

John said...

That's bad News!

DAVID said...

It is very sad, the same goes for "Tavern on the Green".
Unless a strong loby can support an institution (E.G the one who supported Carnage Hall" from the recking ball, they will not support you.
I believe that over the past 5-8 years it has become very easy to purchase french books online via Alibris and or FNAC.com at more competitive prices and the era of boutique book selling is dissapearing.

Very sad day

DB