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New York's French bookshop closes after 73 years

Article published on the 2009-01-01 Latest update 2009-01-06 14:20 TU

Rockfeller Center (Photo : Reuters)

Rockfeller Center
(Photo : Reuters)

The Librairie Française at New York's Rockefeller Center will close in September after 73 years in midtown Manhattan, as the store's rent jumps from $360,000 (258,000 euros) to a million dollars (716,000 euros) a year. The bookstore opened in 1935 at the invitation of David Rockefeller, who wanted Europeans to be part of his new office building.

Bookstore owner Emmanuel Molho, says the family-owned business's difficulties are due not only to the rise of on-line buying but also to the changes at Rockefeller Center itself.

With exclusive boutiques, selling clothes, cosmetics and electronics to tourists, "the Center has become a shopping mall," he told the AFP news agency.

Molho's father, Isaac, who arrived in America in 1928 from Athens, had attended a French school there. His contacts in Paris with the French publisher Hachette led him to David Rockefeller, and the idea of a French bookstore in the middle of Manhattan was launched.

During World War II the bookstore published French authors, such as André Maurois, Jules Romains and Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, who had fled the German occupation of France.   

The shop flourished throughout the 1960s, with more than 50 employees. Books arrived by the shipload on board steamers such as the France

The shop was a literary salon as well as a store for US and south American francophiles. 

"In those years we would order 3,000 copies of the Prix Goncourt literary prize winner," said Molho. "Today, we don't have more than ten copies in stock."

The Molho family tried repeatedly to interest the French government in their plight, but to no avail.

"When French President Nicolas Sarkozy came to dinner at Rockefeller Center last September, he didn't even cross our threshhold," Molho said.