02/12/2019

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

Jim Epstein & Nick Gillespie, Reason

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.

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