BookCourt Closing After 35 Years in Brooklyn

Author Kevin Avery reading at Bookcourt in Brooklyn, New York, on December 13, 2011. Photo by Mitchell Bilus.

To the dismay of many a Cobble Hill denizen, BookCourt, a key literary presence in the gentrifying neighborhood, is closing on December 31st, 2016.

The store has been through a lot over the years since it opened on Court Street in 1981 by then-married couple Henry M. Zook and Mary B. Gannett. Despite setbacks like the opening of a Barnes & Noble down the street in 1999; the rise of Amazon as an on-line purveyor of books; the slowdown in booksales in general; the store continued to flourish, becoming one of the country’s premier booksellers. The store even survived the owner’s own marriage.

So what went wrong? Really nothing but the march of time, say Zook and Gannett. Now that they are in their 60s, the feel the time has come for them to retire.

“We know the store will be missed, and we are very proud of what we accomplished,” they said in a statement. They explained the lasting power of the store because they had “invested in the neighborhood and the real estate which housed the bookstore.”

The store was a magnet for the literary minded. It hosted many famous authors for readings, lectures and talks of all kinds. Some of the more well-known among the visitors were Junot Díaz, Megan Abbott and Don DeLillo. But the less well-known were welcome, too. The store became a base for the growing writing community in Brooklyn, and was a starting point for many newcomers to the profession.

Emma Straub, the novelist, did her first reading at BookCourt in 2009. It was around the same time she began working as a bookseller. She even sold from the store copies of a small-run novella she wrote at the time.

“Lots of people I sold them to were editors that then bid on my novel later,” Ms. Straub, 36, said.

Straub and her husband considered taking over BookCourt from Zook and Gannett, “but that didn’t work out,” she said. They are instead going to open their own bookstore in the neighborhood.

“We decided that we couldn’t stomach living in a neighborhood with no independent bookstore,” Ms. Straub said.

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James Allenby is the editor of Gowanus Lounge, bringing to his position a vast background on New York, and especially Brooklyn history, culture and lifestyle. Born and bred in the heart of "the County of Kings" James Allenby knows what it means to be a Brooklynite, and imparts this meaning at all times to his readers. Contact James at info(at)gowanuslounge.com.