The only independent book store in Astoria selling mainstream titles is slated to close its doors for good this month.
Seaburn Bookstore has been losing money for years and its owner tried to shutter the shop last year.
But an outpouring of community support at the time — and a jump in sales — prompted the owner, Sam Chekwas, to keep the beloved store open. He even remodelled and added an Internet cafe to appeal to new customers.
But after sales began to slip again in June and he faced a five-year lease renewal and rent hike, Chekwas decided it was time to close the final chapter on his 16-year-old business.
He said he plans to open a small book shop in his Long Island City warehouse used for his independent book publishing and online sales business next year.
“I feel quite awful about it,” Chekwas said of the closing. “We gave it all we had. ... The sales were just not there to justify it.”
More and more customers were coming in asking for digital books for their NOOKs and Kindles, he said, and he simply couldn’t compete.
“Where we are is a high-rent area where you really have to sell a lot of books,” said Chekwas, who has had a hard time competing with online merchants such as Amazon.com, which sell books at a fraction of their cover price.
“In 10 years from now, kids that are born today may not have a need for paper books,” he said.
Matthew Flamm, a Crain’s New York Business reporter who covers media, said New York City booksellers also have to contend with high rents and a lousy economy.
“This transition to e-books is just an added blow,” Flamm said. “You may have survived Amazon as a book retailer, but the question is can you survive Amazon and Barnes & Noble as e-book sellers?”
Oren Teicher, CEO of the American Booksellers Association, which represents 1,600 merchants, said independent shops can and do survive.
“There are more independent book stores in the United States today than there were a few years ago,” he said, citing member data. “Nothing beats browsing for books in a physical store — despite all the quantum leaps forward in technology.”
Seaburn customer Danielle Rhodes, of Astoria, said she wished the shop would stay open.
“I’m sad it’s closing because it’s the only book store in Astoria,” Rhodes said. “It’s nice to walk in here and look for books.”
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Heartbreaking, to say the least. =(