You know this script too well by now: beloved New York City neighborhood staple announces it’s closing, there’s much hand wringing about “there goes the neighborhood” and everyone gets sad. This one feels a little bit different though: Dumbo bookstore staple powerHouse seemed as ingrained in the neighborhood as the cobblestone streets themselves. Watching readings from its huge concrete seating steps made cozy book readings feel like the high artistic combat of a Roman coliseum, and we were all better for it. The 10 years it’s been open have seen dramatic change (and increasingly expensive rents) in the booming neighborhood. Today the huge bookstore and event space announced via email that it’s shutting its doors at the end of next month after landlord Two Trees wanted to increase the rent to more than twice the $20,000 per month they were already paying.
But it’s not gone for good: Owner Daniel Power told us they’ll move to a smaller pop-up location a few blocks away this summer and open it as a full bookstore soon after, but gone will be the 10,000-square-foot “arena” space. Nothing is planned to move into the space after they leave, Power said.
“We’re not paying that,” Power said of the rent. “I can understand if it was someone coming in but personally would rather stay there until they had someone.”
A spokesman said Two Trees has always charged powerHouse below market rent and will continue to do that at the new location.
Power said the store will close June 30 and gradually move into the pop-up space (which is about a third of the size of their current space) on Adams and Water Streets this summer. He also said he has no ill will toward Two Trees, who aided them financially over the years and helped them find their new home. The new shop will have a different name and won’t contain the powerHouse publishing house, which is relocating to a smaller store at 55 Washington St.
Powers’ lease was originally up in February, according to Racked, but Power explained that the move to the new bookstore location had been delayed until now. Half of the rent was paid by the publishing arm and the other half came from book and gift sales in the shop.
Until its closing, the store is holding a sale on everything and anything. Books on sale are 30-90 percent off, and everything else has to go, too: gift items, stationery, posters, toys, apparel, totes, closeouts, tables, chairs, desks, cabinets, industrial cabinets, artwork, sundry electrical items, office supplies, bookshelves, cables, theatrical lights, sofas and exhibition walls.
“If people like something and they make an offer, we’ll probably take it,” Power said. PowerHouse will also be hosting late-afternoon happy hours and one-day sales to help say goodbye.
It’s a rough year for bookstores in Dumbo: Nearby P.S. Bookshop, which specialized in used books, will likely close soon too: The shop is trying to raise $80,000 on IndieGoGo to pay back taxes owners say Two Trees never told them about before, but it’s only brought in $13,600 so far.
Power speculated that Two Trees may want to keep the high-ceiling, marquee spots of the two bookstores empty in order to appeal to high-paying tenants who will be lured to the neighborhood once the huge high-end complex, Empire Stores, opens this summer on the waterfront (it’s already attracting stores like West Elm).
“They wanted it sort of empty when the Empire Stores comes online so it looks really good for Fifth Avenue-type brands,” he said.
When powerHouse first opened 10 years ago, there wasn’t much around, mostly just Bubby’s restaurant (which closed in 2012 after nine years) and a bar on Water Street. Power remembers doing his photo festival in 2007, when powerHouse was able to take over empty storefronts to host massive photo exhibitions.
“There were exhibitions everywhere and they were great,” he said. “You can’t do that anymore.”
Follow Tim: @timdonnelly.