Coronavirus News: Strand Bookstore lays off most of staff amid COVID-19 crisis, seeks to be declared essential business

EAST VILLAGE, Manhattan (WABC) -- The iconic Strand Bookstore is laying off most of its employees in an attempt to survive the coronavirus crisis that crippled its business.

The East Village store, which had just expanded to a second location on the Upper West Side, is asking Gov. Andrew Cuomo to reclassify it as an essential business so that it can ramp up online and telephone order operations and begin to bring back its crew of book experts, famous for their voluminous knowledge of the store's vast holdings, touted as "18 miles of new, used and rare books."

"In order to preserve The Strand as a business, with no revenue coming in and no clear idea as to when we can reopen our doors, we have had to temporarily lay off the majority of our staff," the owners announced on the Strand's Twitter account.

The Strand said they have never had to resort to layoffs in their 93 years, a timespan that includes the economic cataclysms of the Great Depression, 9/11 and the transition to digital commerce that has destroyed legions of bookstores and chains like Borders.



"After a century of beating the odds, we won't give up now," the statement said.

The company said it will pay employees for the rest of the week, and is working to provide them with health insurance during the extended closure. The goal is to hire everyone back as soon as possible.

The Strand had already preemptively shut its doors as the coronavirus crisis worsened in a city that has become the epicenter of the pandemic in the United States. The closure, to protect the health of employees and the public, occurred a week before the governor's mandated shutdown of nonessential businesses went into effect Sunday night.

The troubling news comes shortly after the business had been celebrating plans for a new store on the Upper West Side.

The new store is at 450 Columbus Ave., between 81st and 82nd Streets.

That storefront has a literary heritage, as the former home of independent bookshops Endicott Books and Book Culture.

"We are so excited to expand The Strand and engage the community of the Upper West Side," Strand owner Nancy Bass Wyden said earlier this year. "We aim to continue the legacy of my father, and his father before him, by bringing the joy of books to everyone."

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