Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Womrath's Writes Its Final N.J. Chapter

Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Womrath's Writes Its Final N.J. Chapter

Article excerpt

Womrath's, at one time the leading name in books in Bergen County and New York City, has reached the end of its story in North Jersey.

The Womrath's bookstore in Tenafly will close at the end of this month, the last North Jersey remnant of what once was the largest bookstore chain in the New York metropolitan area.

The Womrath's chain flourished in New York City during the Depression, with stores that rented hardcover books for a few cents a week. Patrons were willing to pay to read current bestsellers right away, without having to wait for them to become available at libraries. Apartment dwellers with scant storage room for books also preferred to rent them.

The chain at one time had close to 50 stores in New York and New Jersey, including locations in Hackensack, Tenafly and Ridgewood. After the Tenafly store closes, only one Womrath's will remain, in the Westchester County community of Bronxville, N.Y.

The Hackensack Womrath's, with its two floors of retail space, was the largest and best known in North Jersey, and thrived on that city's Main Street in the pre-mall era, when it was the shopping hub of Bergen County.

That Womrath's closed in 2001, and in the next year, Bob Kutik, the son of the owner of the Hackensack Womrath's, bought the Tenafly Womrath's. Now, Kutik, 65, has decided it is time to retire. He has also decided that time has run out for bookstores such as Womrath's.

The Tenafly Womrath's, which has been a fixture in Tenafly's downtown for more than 50 years, is the second independent bookstore to close in North Jersey this year. Well Read Books in Hawthorne closed in April.

After the Tenafly Womrath's closes this month, Kutik, who owns the building at 12 Washington St. where the store is located, will be renting the 2,300-square-foot space to an Arthur Murray dance studio. He didn't try to bring in a new bookstore operator, he said, because he doubted a bookstore could survive there.

"Even if I gave them a sweetheart deal on the rent, the book business is just a struggle these days," Kutik said. "We were able to do it because I owned the building."

When Kutik was asked if he wanted to buy the Tenafly Womrath's in 2002, he said he would operate another bookstore only if he could own the building. The Tenafly owner at that time did own the building, and sold it to Kutik, along with the bookstore business.

Business in recent years has been down about 20 percent from what it was in 2008, the year after the first Kindles were released and just as the e-books trend was heating up.

"It used to be, every 10 years, you'd see a change in the business," said Kutik, who worked at the Hackensack Womrath's, beginning when he was a teenager. "It went from the chain stores in the '80s, to the superstores in the '90s, and then it became every five years. Amazon came in in '95 and changed the dynamic, and then the free delivery, and the e-books. …

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