The commercial arena for books, though less in tune with the sensibilities of tycoons and autocrats than the world of art, is nonetheless defined by a manichean struggle pitting independent publishers and booksellers against retail and publishing conglomerates.
But today, that moral binary was blurred when it was reported that the Strand Book Store, one of America’s foremost independent booksellers, intentionally uses its sprinkler system to douse the homeless who attempt to sleep under the store’s iconic red awnings. DNAinfo New York reported that signs reading “Warning: Sprinkler System Will Run Periodically From 10:30 PM-9:00 AM” were pulled “after a reporter asked about it.” The signs were allegedly connected to the practice of using the “sprinkler system to drive away homeless people.”
DNAinfo spoke to several homeless individuals who live on that stretch of East 12th Street, and they noted both the potentially devastating cruelty of this practice and the fact that the bookstore used to be more permissive in the past:
“It was bad because you get soaking wet. If you’re lying there and you don’t know about it, everything is going to get soaking wet — all your personal belongings. You’re going to freeze, basically.”
Charise Paschall, 39, who was trying to sleep close to Pilgrim on the pavement, added, “It’s already cold. You’re going to basically freeze to death.”
Local homeless people said that in years past they regularly took shelter under the Strand’s awning without the threat of sprinklers.
“We used to be able to sleep over there. For years and years they let people sleep over there,” said Breeze Reavis, 35, who regularly sleeps on the street around the corner from the Strand.
One relevant component of the story omitted by DNAinfo’s report is the mutually-beneficial business relationship between the Strand and members of the city’s community of the poor and destitute who traffic in used and discarded books. They can often be seen lining up at the purchasing door located on East 12th Street, far from the main entrance, where at designated times the venerable bookstore inspects and buys books from the general public.