The longtime outpost of the Strand Book Store in Central Park is up for grabs.
Last Friday the Parks Department submitted a request for proposals for the operation of the two bookstalls along Central Park at Fifth Avenue between East 60th and 61st Street, currently occupied by Strand. The bookstalls, which have been operational since the 1960s, emulate the booksellers along the Left Bank of the river Seine in Paris.
The Strand’s current contract for the bookstalls, which began in May 2008, is set to end in May of next year. The contract renewal process is par for the course, says the Strand’s General Manager Eddie Sutton.
“It’s standard,” Sutton said. ”We just go at it again.”
Because the bids are submitted in a sealed process, Sutton said Strand, whose main outlet on Broadway and 12th Street claims to carry “18 miles of books” simply tries to offer what it thinks it can afford. Sutton said he doesn’t worry about whether a competitor might come along and take over the tourist-attracting stalls. In fact, it has happened before.
“We lost it years ago,” Sutton said. “Somebody outbid us.”
Sutton, who has worked at the Strand since 1991, recalls that same bidder going broke after that.
“With the help of the Parks Department we took over their lease, and basically bailed them out,” Sutton recalled.
Still, Strand can’t take for granted that it will stay in its prime digs down the street from the Plaza Hotel, and passed by hordes of tourists each sunny day. Last year, City Comptroller John Liu issued a tough audit on contract bidding at the Department of Parks and Recreation, and called on the department to increase competition for bidding.
The city’s solicitation for new vendors offers a peek into the stalls’ finances, for which Strand Books paid the Parks department $46,305 last year. Gross receipts for the first four years of the five-year contract ranged from less than $212,000 to just over $243,000. The last reported period, just nine months, saw a big spike in sales: revenue topped $328,000. Not too shabby in the era of tablets and ebooks.
Those who think they can do better are advised by the Parks Department to attend a meeting and tour of the site on November 7. Bid proposals are due November 27.