The Iconic Rizzoli Bookstore Lives On
By Kisa Schell
Recently, the Barnard Entrepreneur’s Network (BEnet) hosted a discussion between Marco Ausenda, CEO, and Cynthia Conigliaro, Project Manager and Consultant, of the iconic Rizzoli Bookstore in New York City. Hosted at its brand new location, the beautiful store with its skylight, vaulted ceilings, and grand columns was the perfect venue for an in depth discussion about the Rizzoli experience, and the ever-evolving book publishing and book selling industry.
Ausenda described the founding of the company by Angelo Rizzoli in 1927 as a true immigrant success story, highlighting his journey from Italy to the bustling New York City: “He was a magazine publisher and then a book publisher and had a vision. He decided to go international. He came to New York and asked how to get to 5th Avenue, later 712 5th Ave, and decided to build a fantastic place which became the best European bookstore in New York.” His decision to import image heavy books was a pragmatic one, in order to have the works be accessible to the greatest amount of people. Fifty years later, Rizzoli’s was still known for its expansive selection of coffee table books and the like. Soon after, Rizzoli publishing began to publish books in English for its American clientele, furthering its hold on the literary market. In 1990’s, Rizzoli became a chain of 14 bookstores with 2 in New York, at its flagship location and in Soho. At the end of the decade, the competitive market with players such as Barnes and Noble caused the end of the chain of Rizzoli’s and the company returned to maintaining only its original location.
Sadly, their flagship store on 57th street was shuttered to make way for a “7-star hotel” but the Rizzoli company is determined to continue their legacy. Although this could have been an opportunity for the company to exit from a retail storefront and focus on their more lucrative publishing division, Ausenda understood that the value of their beautifully curated bookstores goes far beyond a profit. “There is a sort of rebounding of the independent bookstore,” added Ausenda. Although concerns of the e-book and Amazon driving business away from bookstores are a reality, Ausenda states that there will always be a difference in experience when shopping at a beautiful independent bookstore: “People seem to be rediscovering hard copies as a viable choice. Probably, in the future, bookstores will still struggle but what keeps them going is that they are a destination.”
Conigliaro discussed her journey at Rizzoli’s after graduating from Barnard, first entering the store as a book seller and making her way up to management level positions, helping the brand expand into numerous stores across the country. “All of our bookstores were in architecturally significant spaces so the brand was in the DNA. Our understanding of who we were and what we wanted to offer the market allowed us to be faithful to our brand and informed all of our decisions. After having to close 57th street because of the New York City real estate reality– wanting to tear down a historic 6-story townhouse to build a 100-story condominium with multimillion-dollar apartments– that’s a reality of New York. Rizzoli as a company... Understanding the brand and understanding what they wanted to bring to the marketplace and making the commitment to build a certain kind of bookstore.” Her discussion of the importance of branding and having an iconic image associated with the establishment was an important lesson to be learned, especially in the realm of bookstores. As the company looks towards the future, they hope to stay true to their brand while navigating the challenges of an increasingly electronically based society. One thing is for sure, Rizzoli’s will always be a breathtaking place to spend an afternoon amongst aisles and aisles of beautiful books. When will that ever go out of style? #