Free Minds & Free Markets

Leave the Strand Alone! Iconic Bookstore Owner Pleads With NYC: Don't Landmark My Property

Nancy Bass Wyden says historic designation would compromise her ownership rights and mean dealing with bureaucrats who "do not know how to run a bookstore."

If New York City moves ahead with a proposal to landmark the home of the Strand Book Store, it would be putting a "bureaucratic noose" around the business, says owner Nancy Bass Wyden. "The Strand survived through my dad and grandfather's very hard work," Wyden says, and now the city wants to "take a piece of it."

Opened by her grandfather, Benjamin Bass, in 1927, the Strand is New York City's last great bookstore—a four-story literary emporium crammed with 18 miles of merchandise stuffed into towering bookcases arranged along narrow passageways. It's the last survivor of the world-famous Booksellers Row, a commercial district comprised of about 40 secondhand dealers along Fourth Avenue below Union Square.

On December 4, 2018, the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission held a public hearing on a proposal to designate the building that's home to the Strand as a historic site. If the structure is landmarked, Wyden would need to get permission from the city before renovating the interior or altering the facade.

"It would be very difficult to be commercially nimble if we're landmarked," Wyden tells Reason. "We'd have to get approvals through a whole committee and bureaucracy that do not know how to run a bookstore."

Wyden's outrage derives in part from her family's decades of struggle to keep the business alive.

The Strand survived, she says, because of "my grandfather and my dad's very hard work and their passion...Both worked most of their lives six days a week" and they "hardly took vacations."

Why can 11 unelected individuals of the Landmarks Commission curtail Wyden's property rights? Signed into law in 1965, New York's Landmarks Act was challenged as unconstitutional 13 years later by the owner of Grand Central Terminal, which sued the city for preventing it from building a skyscraper on top of the train station.

The U.S. Supreme Court upheld the law in a 6–3 decision, setting a precedent that in the dissenting opinion of Justice William Rehnquist undermined constitutional protections. As Rehnquist wrote, the city had "in a literal sense, 'taken' substantial property rights" from the company without offering just compensation, as required by the Fifth Amendment.

Since that ruling, the number of landmarked properties in New York has more than doubled to about 36,000, encompassing more than a quarter of all the buildings in Manhattan.

Wyden (who is married to Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden) has a big platform, as the owner of a literary landmark in the media capital of the world; The New York Times, The Guardian, Fortune, and the New York Post have all written about her fight with the Landmarks Commission. "I think that there are other business owners like me that ended up just kind of getting trapped in this situation without much of a voice," Wyden says.

In her simple message to the city—"leave me alone"—Wyden is unwittingly echoing the line of retired public school librarian Ella Suydam, owner of a Brooklyn farmhouse built by her Dutch ancestor, which the city first tried to landmark in 1980. "Who the hell are you to tell me what I can do with my house," Suydam told the Commission in 1980, intimidating its members into backing off.

The city waited until 1989, when Suydam was dead, to landmark the house.

Most building owners are less successful in their dealings with the Landmarks Commission. When the city proposed designating Manhattan's former meatpacking district—a neighborhood comprised of 104 buildings—one property-owning family opposed the plan, testifying at a March 13, 2003, public hearing.

"If the buildings become part of a landmark district, this will essentially eliminate new construction," said Richard Meilman, whose grandfather, a Russian-born butcher, had purchased multiple properties in the area in the 1940s.

The Landmarks Commission designated the properties later that year.

Wyden is committed to preserving the Strand. "I want to continue the Strand forever," she says. "That's my legacy and my goal in life." She just objects to the loss of control.

"Our family's been a great steward to the building," Wyden tells Reason. "Two years ago there was a massive sewer fire. It blew out two stories of our windows and rocked the foundation. We restored the windows to the prior look and we restored the pillars to the way they originally had been even before we bought the building."

The Landmarks Commission will vote on designating Wyden's building next month. She's not optimistic.

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  • Rockabilly||

    Comrade! Do not fear.

    Did you know Central Committee has members who went to Kennedy School of Government and took courses on 'how to run business?'

    Have no fear, your business is our business.

    For the People.


  • Eddy||

    Waah, I want OBL, he's less scary.

  • Crusty Juggler||

    the Strand is New York City's last great bookstore—a four-story literary emporium crammed with 18 miles of merchandise stuffed into towering bookcases arranged along narrow passageways

    "18 miles of books, 12 miles of loneliness." - John Mulaney

    In her simple message to the city—"leave me alone"—Wyden is unwittingly echoing the line of retired public school librarian Ella Suydam, owner of a Brooklyn farmhouse built by her Dutch ancestor, which the city first tried to landmark in 1980. "Who the hell are you to tell me what I can do with my house," Suydam told the Commission in 1980, intimidating its members into backing off.

    The city waited until 1989, when Suydam was dead, to landmark the house.

    The establishment always wins.

  • Agammamon||

    Leave the Strand Alone! Iconic Bookstore Owner Pleads With NYC: Don't Landmark My Property

    How rude! This person is being gifted a white elephant and she wants to refuse it? That's a massive insult to the King.

  • JesseAz||

    What are the odds this is a chick who votes blue and loves regulating others?

  • Number 2||

    I was about to ask: who did she vote for in the last New York City mayoral election? In last year's New York gubernatorial election?

  • PaulTheBeav||

    Her husband is probably the most libertarian leaning of the Democrats in the Senate. Ron Wyden works with Rand Paul on a lot of things.

  • Mellissa||

    Well she is married to Oregon senator Ron Wyden and Oregon does love telling people what they can do with their property.

  • Ray McKigney||

    We have to destroy the Strand in order to save it.

  • smalleyd||

    I feel for her but I'm guessing that her politics lean to the left who are notoriously bad for private property rights (Kelo anyone). Would she sympathize with a farmer who is harassed by the EPA over a drinking pond deemed a wetland? Is she critical of all landmarking by NYC or just when they threaten to landmark her property? I'm guessing that she's comfortable with some amount of landmarking as long as she is left alone.

  • Crusty Juggler||

    Oh smalleyd, you know what happens when you assume...

  • Eddy||

    You get to comment on cable news?

  • NotMrNice||

    She's married to a DEM shill Senator. She's as left as you can get without becoming a commie like Ocasio-Cortez.

  • Mongo||

    For you bookfags out there, I just finished Martin Amis' 1975 book Dead Babies, described as Marquis de Sade mashed with PJ Wodehouse (whom I never read).

    It was nasty and, frankly, kind of disgusting.

  • Crusty Juggler||

    So it was good?

  • Mongo||

    I'll wait until it comes out on Xbox.

  • Sevo||

    The SF city gov't decided, some 40 years ago, to do a survey of the existing buildings and designate some number as 'historic', meaning good luck if you wanted to change anything on or in a selected building.
    They did this by sending DBI inspectors on rides around the city; they selected the buildings by some supposedly 'objective' criteria as they drove by. It has become known as the 'windshield survey'.
    As an owner, you found out your building was among them when you tried to get a building permit to change something.

  • John||

    She is pretty damned cute. I feel for her. But her bookstore is wildly overrated. Yeah it is big. But everything is disorganized as hell and when you really spend some time wondering the stacks it contains suprisingly few gems and a whole lot of trade paperbacks and such.

  • Fats of Fury||

    The landmark commissioners should be forced to pay the property taxes on the buildings they seize.

  • Flinch||

    ...and do that in perpetuity, with or without their office, and shielded from any bankruptcy proceeding. Whatever portion of their estate remains [if any] should be siezed upon their deaths to go into a preservation fund. The commissioners want to behave like they are politburo, they should live like regular commies with no escape, and nothing to leave their heirs.

  • Hank Phillips||

    There's always the Howard Roark option. My guess is that is what the nationalsocialist regulators are hoping for in the first place!

  • Number 2||

    In the early 1980s, when I was still in law school, the New York City Landmark conservancy commission wanted to declare an abandoned, vandalized railroad trestle somewhere in Brooklyn as a landmark, claiming that we "needed to remember the bad along with the good." I believe the efforts failed after the entire neighborhood revolted.

  • Earth Skeptic||

    Yes, most neighborhoods in Brooklyn are revolting.

  • Curly4||

    If the bookstore is Landmarked the owner will not be able to make any changes to the store with their position. If they want to Landmark it let them buy the store for retail value and then allow the current owner run it but don't take it without paying for it.

  • Tudo Porno Grátis||

    Yes, i do not about this!

  • Bob Meyer||

    While Wyden presents an image of a very sympathetic victim, she has chosen to remain in New York long after she knew the nature of the beast. I can be sympathetic to the victims of Venezuela's monstrous government but they stayed in Venezuela long after it's inevitable demise was assured. Wyden is much the same.

    Anyone who grew up in New York was part victim and part villain in that they lived by the New York principle "to do anything you gotta know a guy what knows a guy". Political favoritism, bribery and "connections" are how you thrive in the Cesspool by the Hudson.

    Wyden, like the Venezuelans, is getting exactly what she deserves. That is cruel, but no crueler than the fate of many New Yorkers whose connections failed.

    I like her fighting attitude. It will serve her when she starts her life all over again. I wish her the best.

  • theomore||

    Someone who considers himself better than the people who do the work is going to destroy the property of an individual in the name of "I know better than you what should be done with your property. If it costs you all that you have then that is OK because I am here to correct the people who have merely put their hearts and their life's work into it."

    The loss of freedom is such a small thing when considered next to a person who knows better than you. No, they most certainly will not pay the retail price. Paying the retail price would make them accountable. Paying the retail price would deny them of the scope of what they feel must be done. Accountability is as a cross to a vampire in the eyes of someone who knows better than you. Retail price would prevent them from presenting themselves as "Someone who cares."

    "Someone who cares" does not care about the people that are "done to" in the name of those "Caring people." She owns a piece of property so she is an eeevil person for not giving up all she and her family have done to save the store. After all of the work and sweat and tears "Someone who cares" is going to destroy her families life work. Buy it and make it a museum? Are you crazy? We need that money for all of the other "good things we are going to do."

  • NotMrNice||

    Wyden is married to DIM US SENATOR RON WYDEN - a typical lefty putz. You can be sure she votes (D) in every election - even if the candidate is a pedophile or worse.
    I have no sympathy for her or her useless husband - who needs to be "outed" as a non-resident of the state he "claims" to represent - Oregon.

  • PaulTheBeav||

    You couldn't be more wrong. Ron Wyden is the most libertarian leaning Dem in the Senate. He and Rand Paul have co-sponsored many bills together.

  • Libertius III||

    For all the good it is going to do Mrs. Wyden. New York City does not recognize property rights in accord with the Founders.

  • Earth Skeptic||

    Be woke! Property rights are just patriarchial fascism! Racist, too!

  • Ben of Houston||

    The best thing to do when someone is about to declare your building a landmark is simple. It's the same thing as when there might be an endangered species on your land.

    Torch it.

    As horrifying as it is, this is the only fiscally responsible thing to do. Before you lose most of the value and use of your property, destroy whatever it is that might make the government want to take it.

    Is this really the behavior we want to encourage?

  • Earth Skeptic||

    Ah, the Jewish lightning.

  • Flinch||

    If it was rent controlled apartments, you might be on to something. But this move by the commies infesting NYC are indicative of a vacuum: the protection buffer from city hall was destroyed by the FBI and there's nobody left to pay [that's solid] to make them "understand" the will of the people in a neighborly manner.

  • C. S. P. Schofield||

    My late Mother was deeply involved in the early years of Historical Preservation of architecture, in Cleveland in the 1970's. Then, one of the big fights was getting cities to adjust tax and zoning policies so that it made at least as much economic sense to restore a building and find some new purpose for it as it did to tear it down and start a parking lot. People (political activists especially) being what they rem by the end of the same decade she was trying to remind people on local preservation boards that just because they COULD designate a building didn't mean they should. In particular sho opposed the obsessive preservation of some post-civil-war worker housing that had been (as she put it) bug-ugly when it was built, and had been getting uglier ever since.

  • Dancquill||

    Someone needs to remind her of Obama's famous words.. "You didn't build that"!

  • Ron||

    If she doesn't accept the landmark the city just might come in and fine them for non ADA compliant space which would be very expensive to correct and they will probably tell her if it was landmarked she wouldn't have to meet the ADA rules. it will be black mail plain and simple

  • Flinch||

    Landmarks come with serious restrictions, and city council can grab the issue away from regular permitting process [as bad as that is in NYC] at will, and under any pretense. I'm with Wyden on this one, and 100%: the city has no idea what its doing - a bookstore is not that noteworthy, historically speaking. Yes, it's a touchstone of NYC - almost everybody who reads there has set foot inside. But the reason it's a touchstone is it's a key business [and not a tourist attraction]. It's a fine example of something Ken Hamblin was fond of saying: "The business of America is business".


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