For small business owners, Sam and Craig Newman, the closing of their bookstore, Penn Books in Penn Station, seemed bittersweet. The business had been in Craig’s family for 22 years and was passed down to him and his wife by his grandparents. After struggling with the increasing rent, competing with online retailers and working themselves to the bone, the store closed in April of 2015. Since the closure of their store, both have had different experiences adjusting to their new life.
During the last few years that Penn Books was open, both husband and wife worked 15 hours a day between commuting from their East Islip home and Penn Station, pushing 75 or more hours a week. This left little to no time for them to get anything else, such as housework, done during the weekends they had off. “Now when I leave work I am done and it’s “Sam time”, said Sam “I get to relax and do what I want on my days off.”The last few months Penn Books was open, the Newmans were paying nearly $45,000 per month in rent compared to $20,000 in 2008. “So many businesses are closing their doors because of the extreme rent increases,” said Sam “I blame rents,
The last few months Penn Books was open, the Newmans were paying nearly $45,000 per month in rent compared to $20,000 in 2008. “So many businesses are closing their doors because of the extreme rent increases,” said Sam “I blame rents, taxes and the internet.” This didn’t include the commercial rent tax in NYC that was $20,000 a year, not to mention payroll and utilities. Sam explained that with the increase of minimum wage, more small “mom & pop” stores will probably close due to the inability to pay workers on top of rent and other taxes, which could also cause the unemployment rate to rise.
The Newmans weren’t the only ones who suffered. It is a well-known fact that the bookstore business has long been suffering in particular. “Bookselling is a tough business these days no matter where you are,” said Christine Onorati, owner of Word Bookstores, an independent bookstore with two locations in Brooklyn and Jersey City. She said that while high rents can really hurt small businesses, particularly bookstores in NYC, it can also be a benefit with having what she called a “dense urban market” as their customer base. She still said that the bookselling business continues to suffer, “Online shopping, specifically Amazon, is a huge problem for bookstores, and all small businesses, really.”
Even big chains, like Borders and Barnes & Noble, struggle to keep up, with Borders closing in 2011. With the invention of the e-reader in the early 2000s and the boom of the online shopping era, the need to go in-store for books has declined greatly.
James Sweeney, a retired MTA NYPD Officer who worked in Penn Station for over 10 years, saw this decline happen to the Newmans shop. “I knew Craig during a very successful time during his ownership,” said Sweeney “I had seen his expansion and growth but knew he was up against challenges with increasing rent and e-books emerging. It was a sad day to see the store close!” He, along with many other commuters, enjoyed going in to find a book to read on his ride home or going in to chat with Sam and Craig on his breaks. With the invention of e-readers and smart devices many people just download and read on their devices.
The biggest adjustment for the Newmans is no longer being their own bosses. As they began to close up shop, Craig, who had a friend who worked for P.C. Richard and Son, began training for his new job. His wife had some difficulty finding a job at first until a stroke of luck found her. “It was now 2 weeks before my store was closing and I went to staples to make my “store closing” sign,” said Sam. The man who helped her told her to go to the Barnes & Noble across the street, ask for one the store manager and tell her, her story. Soon after she had an interview before being hired to work at the Massapequa Park location of Barnes & Noble.
When it comes to their new jobs, while both are happy, they have had separate experiences working for large companies. Craig, a problem solver, has found it difficult to work under managers, not having had a boss since he was 16. Sam finds it a lot more relaxing working for Barnes & Noble. “I find it a lot easier working for a large company because I was used to doing everything from book buying, merchandising, returns, payroll and accounts payables,” said Sam “Now I just deal with merchandise and the daily MOD [Manager On Duty] duties.”
The closing of Penn Books, a prominent figure in Penn Station for so many years, was hard on the Newmans and their customers. “The bookstore may have closed but the memories and wisdom gained from the experience will live with the former owners forever,” said Nicole Orisich, a career counselor for Get Unstuck NYC “Endings are really only beginnings in disguise.” Orisich explained that in order to successfully transition from owning their own business to working for large companies the best approach is to see what the Newsman can take from their former positions and best apply it to their new roles in life. She said that seeing who they have become as a result of the change is an important part of continuing to be successful.
The Newmans will always be saddened by the closure but in today’s world where finding a job can be rather difficult, they relish in the fact that both were able to obtain jobs so soon after the closure. They also were able to build a strong client base while open, resulting in loyal customers continuing to be a part of their lives, keeping in contact with the owners even after the store is gone.