9:47 am Sep. 30, 20111
St. Mark’s Bookshop was packed last night at around 6:30 p.m. with people awaiting their hero—or, a guy they hoped would become their hero in a very specific local matter—Michael Moore.
The filmmaker approached store co-owner Bob Contant Tuesday night with the idea of coming there to sign copies of his new book, Here Comes Trouble. It seemed a perfect fit: Moore has a book to promote (he told the crowd at the bookstore last night that he had no interest in doing signings at big chain stores), and St. Mark's Bookshop is itself in trouble, and has asked its landlord, Cooper Union, the private engineering, architecture and art college, to reduce its $20,000 monthly rent (with backup from a local petition and a community board resolution).
Moore had earlier in the week made a much-televised visit to protesters at the Occupy Wall Street campout, getting his face on the screen just when he's got a promotion to do and also giving major media outlets a hook for covering the events downtown.
Moore said he expected no more than 50 or so to show up as he only publicized the event via Twitter and Facebook. But Joyce Ravitz, chairperson of the Cooper Square Committee, and local activist Frances Golding who is a founder of the group, sent out an email notice of the event to the signatories of their “Save St. Mark’s Bookshop” online petition. Since the petition’s online publication just over a month ago, it has gotten over 40,000 signatures.
Ravitz and Golding told them that the board of Cooper Union was asking its finance committee to look into the rent-reduction request and that they'd have an answer in late October. It also set a goal of 50,000 signatures for between now and then.
Golding, a fan of Moore’s and a neighborhood activist in the East Village for some 67 years, took the floor to rally her troops.
“This bookstore is going to survive!” she said, as the store erupted in applause.
“Any elected official who I have called and asked to write a letter to Cooper Union has written a letter,” Ravitz said, listing Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, Councilmember Rosie Mendez, and Assemblymember Deborah Glick.
Scattered applause slowly built to an eruption of cheers and hollers as Michael Moore took his place behind the counter.
“Save St. Mark’s bookstore!” he called as the crowd continued to clap. “We’re appealing to Cooper Union, right? The landlords?” Moore asked the audience.
“They’re fucking up the neighborhood!” Golding shouted.
“Well, we’re appealing to their conscience and the integrity of their history, because they exist only because the people of New York have supported Cooper Union for all of these centuries,” he said to eager nods and murmured approbations.
“We must acknowledge the times that have changed," he said. "There was a crash that occurred because some people got greedy.”
He proceeded to narrate the financial crisis and its applicability to the store’s troubles.
“I’ve seen enough of New York destroyed! I am ashamed to live in a city where out of 8 million people, one million of them live in poverty.”
“Disgraceful! St. Mark’s can’t pay the rent it paid three years ago, so all it’s asking for is a reduction," he said. "It’s not asking for a free lunch! Oh, God forbid!”
The crowd giggled and booed.
Moore proceeded to describe his childhood trips to the once-independent Borders bookstore in his hometown of Ann Arbor, Mich., as he compared its quaintness to St. Mark’s.
“The bookstores are not going to die," he exclaimed, "because people want to get out of the house! We like being around other people. That’s why we like coming to bookstores. You can’t really quantify it … but you know why it feels good … when you leave here, you have something you didn’t know … or go to a fantasy place. Whatever, right?”
Now the audience was practically screaming its adulation.
Moore fielded questions from health-care activists, members of the Democracy Now! Campaign, and one woman begging him to become a vegan so he can continue to serve the public in good health.
Moore said he wanted to restrict the final questions to “the people in the back who haven’t gotten the chance to speak” before hunkering down to sign books for a line of about 200 patrons.
The hardcover book, at 427 pages, lists at $26.99. If 200 patrons bought the book at the store, given the standard bookstore wholesale discount of 20 percent, that means about $1,000 in the bank for St. Mark's and $4,000 for Moore's publisher, Grand Central Publishing, a division of Hachette Book Group USA, which is in turn a subsidiary of French multinational media conglomerate Lagardère.