“I’m Not Asking for Money or a Tax Rebate. Just Leave Me Alone.”


FILE -- Inside the Strand Bookstore in New York, Nov. 30, 2016. The beloved independent shop with 18 miles of books says that landmark status for its building could be a death blow. (Tony Cenicola/The New York Times)

In my Sunday print column I wrote that “aggressive, interventionist government policies seems like hubris to me when the side effects can be so unpredictable.”

The example I used was school enrollment dates causing a spike in diagnoses of A.D.H.D. for children with August birthdays, but other lessons on the hubris of big government are all around us, and perhaps now is an appropriate time to consider them as our state lawmakers gather in Bismarck to organize for another session of creating policies to dictate how we live our lives and go about our business.

There’s a story in the New York Times today about the famous Strand Bookstore in Greenwich Village which local officials want to protect with an official landmark designation.

The family owners of the bookstore, people who have operated it for more than nine decades, don’t want the government’s protections because, they argue, the unintended consequences of those protections would destroy their business:

Nancy Bass Wyden, who owns the Strand and its building at 826 Broadway, said landmarking could deal a death blow to the business her family has owned for 91 years, one of the largest book stores in the world.

So at a public hearing on Tuesday before the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission, her plea will be simple, she said: “Do not destroy the Strand.”

Like many building owners in New York, Ms. Wyden argues that the increased restrictions and regulations required of landmarked buildings can be cumbersome and drive up renovation and maintenance costs.

“By landmarking the Strand, you can also destroy a piece of New York history,” she said. “We’re operating on very thin margins here, and this would just cost us a lot more, with this landmarking, and be a lot more hassle.”

I thought this argument from Wyden (who, interestingly, is the wife of Democratic Senator Ron Wyden) was particularly compelling:

Another rich twist, Ms. Wyden said, was that the move coincides with the announcement that Amazon — not exactly beloved by brick-and-mortar booksellers — plans to open a headquarters in Queens, after city and state leaders offered upwards of $2 billion in incentives to Amazon and its multibillionaire chief executive, Jeff Bezos.

“The richest man in America, who’s a direct competitor, has just been handed $3 billion in subsidies. I’m not asking for money or a tax rebate,” Ms. Wyden said. “Just leave me alone.”

There is a deep irony in a business owner compelled to lobby local government to stop their efforts to protect her business.

If the city puts a landmark designation in place all manner of restrictions come with it, right down to regulation of the sort of paint colors Wyden’s business could use in any remodel. And, despite Wyden’s objections, some city officials still very much want the landmark designation:

…Peg Breen, the president of the New York Landmarks Conservancy, an advocacy group, said she believed the Strand’s concerns were unfounded.

“No one is doing this to hurt the Strand, or add difficulties,” she said. “They’re doing it to honor the building.”

If government regulations destroy the business they’re intended to protect, what’s the point?

This, again, is why government should be small and restrained.