Upper West Side bookstore closes amid accusations of fraud

Book Culture at Columbus Avenue and West 81st Street shut down this month

Book Culture at 450 Columbus Avenue (Credit: Google Maps)
Book Culture at 450 Columbus Avenue (Credit: Google Maps)

An Upper West Side bookstore that opened to fanfare and enthusiasm in 2014 has closed amid fraud allegations and a rent dispute.

Book Culture opened a branch by Columbus Avenue and West 81st Street about six years ago and did $4 million in sales in 2018, — $1 million more than principal owner Chris Doeblin initially said was necessary for the store to succeed, according to the Daily News. However, things started to go south in the middle of last year, the newspaper reported.

The store was plagued by debt because of the increasing minimum wage and higher health insurance costs, according to Doeblin. The store shut down on Jan. 7, and he said in a letter to customers that it was $140,000 behind in rent.

Minority owner John MacArthur blamed Doeblin for Book Culture’s problems, accusing him in a lawsuit of taking money from the Columbus Avenue store and giving it to three other Book Culture stores in Morningside Heights and Long Island City that were losing money.

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The suit also accuses him of fraud by establishing a community lending program that Doeblin says has raised $600,000 to keep the four Book Culture stores open. MacArthur’s lawyers say the program does not follow regulations for crowdfunding, is not registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission and does not clarify that the Columbus Avenue Book Culture is owned separately from the other Book Culture stores.

Robert Quinlan, the landlord, blamed mismanagement for the store’s problems in a notice posted near its door.

“Book Culture is a classic story of over-expansion and poor operating decisions,” he said. [NYDN— Eddie Small