Land Use

New York City Landmarks Historic Bookstore The Strand Over Owner's Objections

"They want to put a bureaucratic noose around me," says Nancy Bass Wyden, third-generation owner of New York's best bookstore. "We're just asking to be left alone."

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New York City's Landmarks Preservation Committee (LPC) just wouldn't take no for an answer. The group has conferred landmark status on the 119-year-old building at 826 Broadway, which has housed The Strand Bookstore since 1956. The owners of The Strand bought the building in the late 1990s and the third-generation owner of the store, Nancy Bass Wyden, opposed the action, telling Reason earlier this year:

The Strand is not going anywhere. There's no need to protect it. Our family's been a great steward of the building. Landmarking would add another component of government. You add bureaucracy, you add committees, you add people having opinions about what we should do inside the store as well as outside the store. And that does not allow me the flexibility to change with the retail book environment and to serve our customers.

Bass Wyden (who is married to Sen. Ron Wyden, the Democrat from Oregon) presented 11,000 signatures to the LPC in hopes of dissuading landmark status. Such popular support for what is generally considered New York's best bookstore cut no mustard. In announcing the new status, the head of the LPC waved away any worries that the commission will be difficult to work with:

"I'm confident that the commission's review of the masterplan and any future applications will provide [the] flexibility the Strand needs to remain nimble and innovative and to continue its important place in New York City, and adapt to a changing retail climate," Sarah Carroll, LPC chairwoman, said at Tuesday's meeting.

In an interview and video produced earlier this year, Bass Wyden begged to differ and described in detail the amount of bureaucratic hoops she already has to deal with.

We already have to go through the Building Department. We already have to get a permit. We already have to get an architect and an engineer. With a landmark designation, we have to go ask this committee that also oversees a huge number of other buildings in New York, and that will get back to us whenever they feel like it with an answer.

It took us two years to just complete the [renovation of the] front of the store without the additional layer of landmark status. When we did the restoration, we looked at the granite that was there before and we matched it. We did not need a committee to do that. We've operated the store for 91 years. We've been in this location for 65 years. We've owned the building for 20 years. We do not need their assistance.

New York's Landmarks Act was signed into law into 1965. It gives 11 unelected officials immense power to deny property owners the ability to modify, renovate, demolish, and rebuild their buildings. More than 36,000 buildings in Manhattan—more than one quarter of the total amount—have landmark status.

Watch Reason's video documentary on The Strand, which was written and produced by Jim Epstein.

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  1. I agree with the owner here, of course, but I wonder if her attitude is something like “bureaucracy for thee, but not for me.”

    1. Can’t help but wonder with a New Yorker

    2. Eh, she’s married to Ron Wyden, who’s one of the better Democratic Senators. But yeah, she should rally people to abolish the LPC entirely.

      1. Wait, what? One of the better ones? Wyden has his slaver mitts on anything he can… He has been instrumental in supporting the theft of property rights in his home state. I take some delight in this turnabout.

      2. Isn’t Wyden the one who issued the “nice legal immunity you have, shame if something happened to it” open letter to the social media companies?

  2. “More than 36,000 buildings in Manhattan—more than one quarter of the total amount—have landmark status.”
    Almost there – – – –
    Just a few more – – – –

    1. Only 11 of them. They’re going to have to go all the way to eleventy eleven to clear that backlog.

      1. But this landmark committee goes to 11.

  3. Who nominated them for landmark status? What did they do to piss her off?

    1. They didn’t piss anyone off. More probably, they just might have pleased the wrong person.

      You see, the average person thinks that landmark status is a good thing. That it’s about protecting and preserving old building. And so this person being pleased with the store, and charmed by its building, suggested that it be protected and preserved. Not realizing what that meant.

      I worked in a building that had historical status once. There was a flood. Fixing the building was bureaucrat nightmare. Why had to get the right mouldings, could not tear down a damaged wall, could not remove asbestos, etc.

  4. As someone who worked for various bookstores and publishers for over 20 years, I can attest that the world of books is almost as polluted with the fringes of far left extremism as are Hollywood or the music business. I am also a big fan of New York’s Strand Bookstore, a wonderful place to explore and waste time. That said, I find it amusing that the owner of the Strand, Nancy Bass Wydon (whose husband is Oregon Senator and professional busybody Ron Wyden), is complaining that New York City is designating the store a landmark. Her objection? With landmarking, “you add bureaucracy, you add committees, you add people having opinions about what we should do inside the store as well as outside the store…We already have to go through the Building Department. We already have to get a permit. We already have to get an architect…” So, the long and the short of it is that she objects to government interference in how she runs her business. Huh. Imagine that…! I wonder if she advocates as hands-off a political approach for others’ businesses and personal lives as she does her own?

    1. It’s possible she does and her husband just doesn’t listen to her.

  5. Bass Wyden (who is married to Sen. Ron Wyden, the Democrat from Oregon)

    As a former resident of OR for 27 years, having watched Wyden establish his hegemony in the US Senate, the idea of his family getting saddled with government oversight that it objects to is intensely satisfying.

    He has a good record on privacy rights, which completely confounds me, as he is a collectivist to the core.

    1. This^^

    2. In the same vein of that saying “Democrats are just Republicans who haven’t been mugged yet,” I think collectivists are just libertarians who haven’t run into the state yet.

  6. Maybe it’s time to just declare Manhattan south of 65th street “The Old City of New York” and disquade anyone not willing to be part of a living history museum from going there.

    1. *Sigh* It’s a bit difficult to focus on the website at the moment. Some guys are arguing in Arabic next to a taxi right outside the my hotel’s lobby. I miss NYC.

    2. You haven’t seen the Hudson Yards yet?

      Much of Manhattan south of 65th is new or newish. I’m surprised Katz’s deli hasn’t been bulldozed yet.

  7. “We’re just asking to be left alone.”

    Heh. That ship sailed long ago.

    1. And as soon as it had sailed out of sight, it was sunk.

  8. […] Chaser: New York City Landmarks Historic Bookstore The Strand Over Owner’s Objections. […]

  9. […] opposing the city’s designation of the building and store as a landmark. Reason also has an editorial on the topic, pointing out the immense power the 11-person landmarks committee holds over New York City real […]

  10. […] will strangle famed Strand used bookstore, says owner [Nancy Bass Wyden, New York Daily News, Nick Gillespie, Reason, earlier] NIMBY resistance to Dupont Circle project behind Masonic Temple insists on preserving […]

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