Residents reflect on the end of an era
By Scott Enman
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
In the spring, Cobble Hill residents were saddened to hear of the news that, after 30 years, the Community Bookstore would be closing its doors.
The shuttering of the Community Bookstore — a warm and welcoming place where visitors could get lost in a maze of novels, dusty toys and vintage records — meant that only one independent bookstore remained in the area: BookCourt.
On Tuesday, however, the owners of BookCourt, Henry Zook and Mary Gannett, announced in a letter to their patrons that their shop would soon be closing as well.
Since 1981, residents of Cobble Hill and beyond have gathered at BookCourt to take refuge, escape reality and get lost in a labyrinth of timeless classics. Kids, too, would flock there after school to the children’s section, a charming corner of the store with a colorful array of books.
“We want to thank our Boerum Hill and Cobble Hill neighbors for their loyal support,” Zook and Gannett wrote. “Against many odds, BookCourt grew and flourished in a time when many independent bookstores closed … We could not have survived the challenges of rent increases, Barnes & Noble and Amazon otherwise, and we are thankful that we were able to provide this community with an independent bookstore for many years.
“We realize that BookCourt’s closing leaves a void in the neighborhood and the industry. We especially want to tell the neighborhood children that we will miss you. Your enthusiasm has been a big part of what made our jobs and the store so wonderful. Seeing you curled up on the bench, the couch or on the floor reading, brought joy to all of us every day.”
Unlike many retail stores along Court Street that get priced out, Zook and Gannett, who own both 161 and 163 Court St., will be retiring.
The store’s last day will be Dec. 31. And on that day, the neighborhood will be losing a staple, a cornerstone and the last of a dying breed.
Not all may be lost, however. Former BookCourt employee and author Emma Straub — who held all five of her book launch parties at BookCourt — wrote on her website that she and her husband are working to open their own bookstore to fill the void.
“A neighborhood without an independent bookstore is a body without a heart,” Straub and her husband Michael wrote. “And so we’re building a new heart. We've spent the last few months looking at spaces, getting our math together and thinking about light fixtures. We have secured initial funding and crossed our fingers. And so, dear Cobble Hill, Carroll Gardens, Boerum Hill, Brooklyn Heights, Columbia Waterfront and beyond … you won’t be lonely for long.
“Books are magic, and we want to make sure that this neighborhood is positively coated in bookish fairydust for decades to come … We are working hard to make sure that our children (and yours) have new corners to claim as their own.”
Following BookCourt’s announcement, the Brooklyn Eagle spoke with some longtime Cobble Hill residents about the closing and what the store signified.
“I am completely devastated to learn about the loss of BookCourt,” said Arif Silverman. “I can’t think of a space I value more in the neighborhood. More than any other indoor space, it seemed like the center of our community. Local bookstores have that effect on neighborhoods, so the fact that we no longer have one will definitely change our neighborhood’s atmosphere.
“I hope that this will not be the last bookshop we seen in our neighborhood, and that this change is not followed by a greater movement away from the communal and toward the commercial. That would break my heart,” Silverman added.
“It’s so sad,” said Gideon Olshansky. “They were a real force in the neighborhood, elevating the extraordinary literary voices that walk among us. They fed our collective intellectual appetite and will truly be missed.”
"It would be hard to overstate how much BookCourt has meant to me and to the neighborhood,” said Cobble Hill Resident, author and former BookCourt employee Moira Weigel. “When I was a kid, learning to read, it was a magic place. My mom would take me there and I would spend what felt like entire afternoons curled up in the backroom that used to be the children's section.
“Henry, Mary and Zack created a real literary and intellectual center, not just for Cobble Hill, but for the whole city,” she continued. “When my first book came out, I had my first reading at BookCourt, and it will always be one of my happiest memories. I will really miss the place.”