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A Different Kind of Bookshop in Brooklyn

posted on 16 Dec 2015

I visited New York recently for the launch of a book that I was peripherally involved in. The book is Brooklyn: A Personal Memoir by Truman Capote with the lost photographs of David Attie published by the Little Bookroom in New York and now available here in the UK.

I’ll write about the book and my involvement in another post but here I want to talk about the location for the launch a rather different kind of bookshop in Brooklyn called The Powerhouse Arena. If the name sounds a bit overwrought it’s not really – the guy who founded it is called Power.

Given the pressure on independent bookshops there is a need to come up with a format that sets them apart from the chains and online downloads and the Arena certainly looks like one way to do it. The title is the first clue – this is a bookshop with books for sale but its not like any other bookshop I’ve visited.

The emphasis is on events – hence the Arena part of the title – with the bookselling, to some extent, an offshoot of that rather than the usual model of a bookshop with occasional events. And the Arena does lots of events.

It’s housed in a double height retail space in the fairly recently fashionable and awkwardly named area of Brooklyn called Dumbo. Literally Down Under Manhattan Bridge Overpass. This is an ex-industrial and dock area over the East River from Manhattan which was bought up by a developer. Now there are trendy businesses and apartments and rents are high and rising.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The space is very flexible with none of the usual fixed shelves but lots of tables and free-standing book display fittings. Apart from the height and a mezzanine the dominant feature is a kind of stepped auditorium area – simple and just comfortable enough for an event of an hour or so.

The Arena gets in not just authors but other names to pull a crowd. At the event I was at the Hollywood actress Mary Louise Parker, herself a resident of Brooklyn Heights, read some of Capote’s words. The place was packed with people spilling off the steps onto the floor.

So would it work here? I suspect that it is a model that could be used here particularly in urban areas with warehouse or industrial units available at reasonable prices. Interestingly the lease is up at the Arena and the developer wants to re-use the space for something else so they are moving to a nearby but smaller unit very soon. This illustrates the positives of the availability of space as an area regenerates but the negatives of what happens when it does and rents and demand go up.

As well as book related events, other things like music and performances would be possible. Lets hope there is someone brave enough to try it here!

Brian Homer
December 2015

See the Powerhouse Arena website

See more pictures from the launch on Flickr