Fundraising keeps Westsider Books open

Westsider Books, on Broadway. Photo: Jason Cohen
A GoFundMe campaign raises $50,000 for UWS shop
By Jason Cohen

One of the last remaining used bookstores on the Upper West Side nearly shuttered its doors last week. However, through community fundraising, Westsider Books will stay open.

In less than a week of crowdsourcing, Upper West Side residents have raised $50,000 for Westsider Books, located at 2246 Broadway between 80th and 81st Streets. A staple in the community for 35 years, its announced closure caught everyone by surprise, but now frowns have turned upside down.

On Jan. 15, a day after co-owners Dorian Thornley and Bryan Gonzalez said their store would close, Upper West Side resident Bobby Panza sprang into action and launched a GoFundMe campaign.

Gonzalez expressed his gratitude toward the generosity of the community, but said “he did not know where the store would be in a few months or even a year.”

“The response has been overwhelming,” said the Westsider Books Facebook page. “It’s really an amazing show of support and we are humbled and incredibly grateful. New Yorkers are awesome.”

Panza said he started the GoFundMe because the bookstore is important to him and many people in the neighborhood, but he never imagined it would raise $50,000 that quickly. He said it is his cousin Ben’s favorite shop and he just bought a vinyl record there last week.

“I was working with so many great people to keep Westsider open,” Panza said. “It’s nice to see the community come together to keep this beloved shop open. It reminds me of that line from Billy Madison, ‘cherish it, for the love of God, cherish it.’ Because who knows, someday it might be gone.”

Gonzalez and Thornley, both 50, bought the store 23 years ago and have cherished every moment. From seeing people meet each other, listening to conversations and observing the different types of characters that have come into the store, the duo has been blessed, they said.

They said it was extremely tough during the 2008-2009 recession and came close to shuttering their doors then. However, in trying to keep up with the technologically driven times, this year has been very tough on them, as people just read and buy more books online.

Gonzalez reminisced that things were much simpler when they bought the store. People used to read books in parks, buses or subways, while today their heads are glued to their phones.

“I think people come in to browse and maybe come find things they may not find have necessarily thought they were looking for,” Thornley said.

Prior to learning it would remain open, customers flocked to the store, called the owners and messaged them on social media. Columbia University seniors Kara Schechtman and Upasna Saha were there perusing the books. Saha, who went to high school in the area, has been there many times and enjoys finding books from people’s old collections.

“I’ve always loved this place,” Saha said. “It has great sentimental value to me. Being a student, used bookstore prices are much better.”