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A Third Life for Three Lives Books?

Did you see the recent letter by the owner of Three Lives Books?  The building that has been their home for 33 years is for sale — read the full letter here.

Under current law there is no obligation for the new owner to offer a new lease or to maintain the amazing book store, a challenge that plagues small local shops across the city.

Listing for Sale.
Listing for Sale.

Located on one of the loveliest streets in NYC, the building is part of a suite of town houses for sale for $10 million.

But rather than simply lamenting the change, owner Toby Cox is spreading the word, in the hopes that a new property owner interested in a thriving and valued enterprise like this will connect them to a space that could become a new home.

The listing here indicates that the two townhouses adjacent to Three Lives were built in 1855.  But the bookstore itself is in an even older building.  As mentioned in the Greenwich Village Society Historic District Designation Report from 1969, 184 Waverly Place on the corner was built before 1828 in the Federal period.  It says “The first floor has a store with cast iron corner column,” a remaining charming functional element that still exists today.

The three contiguous properties currently host a total of 12 apartments (three of which are subject to rent stabilization), and are being marketed as potentially desirable for single family conversion.

A previous sale recorded in New York Times December 20, 1921.
A previous sale recorded in New York Times December 20, 1921.

Toby noted that among his outpouring of supportive feedback his well crafted letter inspired, a lot of people are angry as they see their neighborhood changing very rapidly all around them.

There are many causes for this phenomenon, one of which is often big chain stores pushing out struggling, smaller independent businesses.

But this is not the case here.  Three Lives & Company is actually thriving enterprise! A bookshop with an interesting selection of books and staffed by passionate, professional booksellers has a place in New York City.

Map of 1894, when West 10th was Amos Place.
Map of 1854, when West 10th was Amos Place and before 156 and 158 West 10th Street were built.

In the letter store owner Toby Cox  recognized and thanked the extended Levine family, for the opportunity they gave Three Lives & Company when they moved into their building in 1983, and for their cooperation to ensure their long-term success, and their understanding of the importance of locally owned businesses to enrich a neighborhood.

Should a lease not be offered to Three Lives, they will look for a new space to build their home.  The shop has moved once since it originally opened on the corner of West Tenth and Seventh Avenue, and there’s always the possibility for a third life for Three Lives.  It is their desire to stay in the neighborhood, but they will need to find the right space at the right price.

Some have suggested there could be a clause in the deed that requires a long term lease at a reasonable rate of return for maintaining the book shop.

Owner Toby Cox in his favorite place.
Owner Toby Cox in his favorite place.

We here at GVSHP have always been big fans of Three Lives.  Here is a longer interview we did with Toby in 2014 to celebrate the release of Greenwich Village Stories.  Toby sat on the editorial committee of this great book.

And now finally, what can you do?

If you are a property owner with a retail space in the neighborhood you think could be a good for a thriving business like this, or know of one, contact Three Lives.

Be aware of the importance of small businesses by supporting them, and nominate your favorite shop for our Business of the Month Award here.

And go visit Three Lives Books at 184 Waverly Place and West 10th Street and buy three books, one for you, one for a gift and buy Greenwich Village Stories because this is yet another important one we know will have another chapter.

Outside the shop.  Police barricades were for the ceremony unveiling the Stonewall Inn National Monument designation.


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