That was the place that was: Two films, one bookstore and a luxury hotel

April 28, 2015

By Matthew E. Milliken
April 28, 2015

As I was putting together the previous post, it struck me that the scenes that shared a location from the new feature film True Story and the new documentary Deep Web might have actually been filmed at a New York City bookstore, which is where we see a character in the True Story reading from his memoir at the end of that film. Perhaps, I mused, it could have been the Barnes & Noble at Union Square.

I did a couple of image searches, one of which — using the keywords “new york city” barnes & noble chandelier — led me to a 2013 video posted by Rizzoli Bookstore. A quick look at the video clinched it: This was the space that I’d seen in both films.

The video’s title proclaims Rizzoli to be “The Most Beautiful Bookstore in New York.” The label is immodest, but it may be apt.

Or at least, it may have been apt.

I went to Rizzoli Bookstore’s website. The store history page has an embedded copy of the video I’d found on YouTube; it also proclaimed, in its first line, “Rizzoli is pleased to announce the new location of the Rizzoli Bookstore at 1133 Broadway in New York City’s NoMad neighborhood.”

I was a little confused. Was Rizzoli opening a second store, or was it moving from one spot to another? A visit to the location and store hours page didn’t entirely clear things up, but it made me lean toward the latter proposition.

I dialed the bookstore’s toll-free number, (800) 52-BOOKS — (800) 522-6657 for those old cusses like me who require every single phone number to be rendered entirely in digits — without being entirely sure what I was going to say. Would I just start asking questions of whoever answered? If so, what questions would I pose? Should I request to speak to the store’s manager or owner?

All of this was mooted. The automated greeting cleared things right up:

Hello. You’ve reached the Rizzoli Bookstore, formerly at 31 W. 57th St. We are closed now at this location and again want to thank you for your loyal patronage over the past 29 years.

So that was that. So long to the magnificent-looking space that I’d glimpsed in two very disparate movies.

I poked around some more and found a few things of interest. From Stephen Whitty’s unflattering review of True Story:

Give the film’s production designer points for expertly faking the New York Times newsroom (and for, accidentally, capturing the last days of 57th Street’s grand Rizzoli bookstore).

(Credit where due: Jeremy Hindle is True Story’s production designer, according to the Internet Movie Database; Bruce L. Brownstein appears to have been the lead location scout.)

That scene captured not just the last days of the store but really of the building itself. It seems that the six-story townhouse that Rizzoli occupied on 57th Street was gutted last year in order to make way for a luxury hotel. (The real estate website Curbed NY has a collection of posts about the bookstore on this page.)

The past is slipping away from us all the time; that is, of course, how time works. But its artifacts go, too, and with them, reality is forever changed. I never got a chance to see the beautiful Rizzoli Bookstore in bookstore, but I’m glad that these two quite different movies gave me a chance to appreciate it, even at a remove.

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