Bookstore Triggers Gentrification That Foreshadows Its Own Exit

Photograph courtesy Rizzoli Close

Photograph courtesy Rizzoli

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Photograph courtesy Rizzoli

On a recent Friday afternoon at the Rizzoli Bookstore in midtown Manhattan, a woman carrying an orange Hermes "Jypsiere" handbag flipped through interior design books on the store's ground floor.

She turned to two clerks standing nearby. "You know," she said, "Richard works just across the street."

"Richard?" asked the clerk.

"Richard. Richard LeFrak," she said of the New York real estate developer who has a net worth of $6 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. "He's the one tearing this place down. Someone should do something."

"Oh," said the clerk, visibly rattled. "I don't think I'd like to do anything, but thank you."

What did she have in mind, I asked. "Throw rotten tomatoes at him," she said, and walked away.

Such is the paradox of the Rizzoli Bookstore's imminent closure: it's a grand store filled with fine things for moneyed folk, and it's being forced to move by the very people most likely to shop there. A destination for the rich razed to make way for the richer.

Both LeFrak Organization and Vornado Realty Trust, the developers responsible for the project, declined to comment on their plans for the site, but there are some indications of what is to come.

Whatever they build will join what's fast become known as Billionaires' Row on 57th Street. One57, which has two penthouses in contract for $90 million each, will soon be dwarfed by nearby 217 West 57th Street, which will rise 1,423 feet. (The Empire State Building is a mere 1,250 feet.) Further east, 107 West 57th Street is set to be 1,300 feet high, with a single apartment on each floor. And 432 Park Avenue, on the corner of 57th Street, has a 96th-floor apartment in contract for $95 million. The opportunity to turn the Rizzoli lot into something equally lucrative must have seemed too good to pass up.

Rizzoli's exit is months away. "The schedule isn't firm," says Charles Miers, the publisher of Rizzoli USA. "We believe we'll be out around mid-year." He says that they would love to stay in the 57th Street area, but given the current real-estate environment, they have to be open to a variety of locations. "For years our bookstores were used as wonderful cornerstones for attracting development," Miers says, "and we hope that's still true."

In a twisted way, his store's demolition is proof that it still is. But that kind of development-- billionaires only-- probably isn't what he had in mind.

In the meantime, the Rizzoli Bookstore remains open, populated by locals, tourists, and women with $7,000 purses who dream of pelting the super-rich with rotten vegetables.

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