May 1, 2023, Mayor's Column
I am writing this week to enlist the help of all readers in support of our iconic bookstore, Womrath’s. I know you share a collective love for the store and a deep commitment to its survival as one of the true cornerstones of our Village where it has been serving our community continuously since 1938.
Like many other small independently owned businesses, Covid wreaked havoc on its bottom line and the owners, Barbara and Morin Bishop, need our financial assistance to help them out short term so as to get them on a path for long-term improvements and hence survival.
I can’t think of a more worthy endeavor than ensuring we support one of the last independent bookstores that calls Bronxville home.
Part of the Village fabric since 1938, and in its present location since the 1950s, it was once a part of a chain of Womrath’s all around the metropolitan area. As of 20 years ago, there were only two left.
Residents still fondly remember the store having a mobile lending truck that traveled around town and sold or lent books to customers for a fee. Lore also has it that Eddie Rickenbacker‘s mother worked on staff while Eddie was serving our country as a war ace as they lived just up the street on Sagamore Road.
Epitomizing old America, one gentleman recently wrote on Instagram that he remembered trying to buy a book of dirty jokes, and got home to find out that the owner had already called his mother to tell her of his misstep!
From 1984 to 2019, Wanda and Gene Sgarlata owned and operated Womrath’s and became beloved Village fixtures. As one resident said, Gene was a master at what he did; you did not just purchase a book, you received a literary education.
Upon their well-deserved retirement, Barbara and Morin Bishop purchased the business in August 2019 and immediately began making updates; eliminating most of the unwanted magazines, changing card displays, expanding sections for new books and creating a comfortable seating area where customers can read, chat and enjoy an oasis of calm from a busy day.
They also launched a successful e-commerce website enabling customers to buy online and invigorated a dormant Instagram account, growing followers to over 13,000 today.
Plans were in development for a variety of in-store events to align with the desires of the customer base. Unfortunately, the pandemic struck six months after purchase, eliminating all capacity to hold in store events and seriously reducing revenues. They have been struggling to recover from that blow ever since, only surviving by taking on substantial debt.
Today while sales have significantly improved over the same period in 2022, they are still not adequate to cover current expenses and the Bishops were forced to draw on a credit line with unsustainably high interest rates. In order to find a path to reimagine the store and create a new vision in the heart of Bronxville, the Bishops’ goal is to raise $147,000 in the next six months. Some of the needed improvements include the establishment of a café at the rear of the store with the hope of creating not only a new revenue stream, but increase store traffic and create a more contemporary ambience. Infrastructure upgrades, long neglected have to be addressed. They include removing the current drop ceiling to reveal the beautiful pressed tin ceiling and skylight some 10 feet higher; replacing unsightly fluorescent fixtures with attractive ones that also provide better lighting and covering the current floor with more appealing and durable hardwood.
Author events, children’s activities, book groups, monthly introduction of new titles, as well as initiating customer loyalty and subscription service programs are also needed to expand foot traffic and promotional reach both in person and online. Of critical need is our donations to give breathing room, enabling the Bishops to pay down some of the crushing interest debt they are currently carrying from the pandemic.
Realistically, to ensure success now and in the future, they need to increase revenue by 15% based on similar café and store models. The café alone can conservatively generate a 5% growth leaving just a 10% differential to be developed through the upgrades, innovative programs and structural investments described above.
As background, current owners Morin and Barbara both came from the creative side of the literary business.
Morin has been a writer and editor for his entire adult life and there are even a few books in the store with his name on them while Barbara has a background as a graphic designer. For more than 20 years, they have had their own editorial services firm that has created some 200 books and special interest publications, many of them illustrated for a variety of publishers.
Having lived in the village for over 19 years, when they heard that the store was for sale, after weeks of introspection, they decided that owning and running the store would be a wonderful last act professionally, not only doing something they knew they would love, but saving a beloved institution in the process. Of course, that was before anyone could have foreseen a worldwide pandemic.
A Village has many stores, all part of the fabric of a small downtown but some represent more than just a business/an edifice. They represent what a community wants to be. Personally, I cannot imagine our unique home without its bookstore. It says something about what we hold dear. The bookstore is iconic, a wonderful throwback but in so many ways so is our one square mile and perhaps why we treasure it so.
If you could see your way to help, please send a check for any amount to Womrath’s Book Shop, 76 Pondfield Road or contribute via Venmo @WomrathBookshop.