Labyrinth may close

With no buyer in sight, the closing of Labyrinth is inevitable and a new bookseller may move in.
With no buyer in sight, the closing of Labyrinth is inevitable and a new bookseller may move in. Photo by Christopher Peak.

Unless a buyer steps in with an offer, Labyrinth Books could close in as soon as two weeks.

For the last few months, the York Street bookstore, which has offered Yale course books as well as a variety of academic titles for more than five years, has searched for a buyer without success, said Labyrinth Books’ manager Martha MacDonald. The store has not ordered any course books for the upcoming academic year, MacDonald said, and on Monday several of the store’s shelves, including long stretches of the higher bookcases, had been cleared.

“We’re hoping for a Hail Mary buyer,” MacDonald said. “Times are tough in books.”

Labyrinth’s co-owner Dorothea Von Moltke said in an email Wednesday that plans were still being finalized for a new bookseller to move into the space, but declined to comment further.

Factors in the potential close include the increase in prices of new editions, the economic downturn and the difficulty of competing with online retailers like Amazon, MacDonald said.

“Kids will [buy a book], move seven feet away, turn on their laptops and see that Amazon is selling it for $15 less — and then say, ‘I want to return this,’” she said.

Store owner Clifford Simms could not be reached for comment.

The bookstore’s property, along with Yorkside Pizza and part of Toad’s Place, is owned by ANG Realty, Yorkside Pizza’s co-owner Anthony Kontronmanis said. On Monday, Kontronmanis said he had not heard of the bookstore’s search for a buyer or potential closing, and said the property leased by Labyrinth is not up for sale.

Undergraduate students generally were unconcerned by the news that the bookstore may close. Of 14 students interviewed, seven said they did not buy any books from Labyrinth in the past year, and six more had bought five or fewer. Marisa Karchin ’14 said she bought 10 books from Labyrinth Books in the past year, but said the closing would only be a minor inconvenience, as she would have shopped online instead.

But Pruittiporn Kerdchoochuen ’11 said that while she had not bought any books from Labyrinth this year, the store played an important role.

“It’s nice to have an option that’s not a big chain,” she said.

For the store’s part, though, MacDonald said the amount of customers has visibly decreased.

“If a community wants a bookstore to stay … the first thing they should do is buy the books,” MacDonald said.

Erin Carter ’12 said she was not concerned as long as the Yale Bookstore continued to carry the same books.

While the New Haven bookstore might be closing, MacDonald said there are no plans to close the Labyrinth Books in Princeton, N.J.

Of the books already removed from the shelves, all standard edition books are being sent back to publishers, while discounted books will go to Great Jones Books, an academic wholesale book company owned by the brother of Simms, MacDonald said.

Before Labyrinth, the storefront was occupied by Book Haven for 22 years.


  • chrispbacon

    > Undergraduate students generally were
    > unconcerned by the news that the
    > bookstore may close. Of 14 students
    > interviewed, seven said they did not
    > buy any books from Labyrinth in the
    > past year, and six more had bought
    > five or fewer.

    I doubt Bethencourt’s classification of the student response as “unconcerned,” as half of the students responded positively to whether they had bought anything from Labyrinth. However, if it is true, it’s a sad comment on our university that Labyrinth goes out of business while Toad’s and Yorkside remain profitable.

  • MsMoneypenny

    I’m in favor of keeping independent bookstores running. So much more interesting than the big chains. But I can see why students would seek bargains in textbooks whenever possible.

  • grumpyalum

    If the books weren’t ridiculously overpriced by even independent bookstore markers, I would have shopped there.

    They weren’t in the bursar system (which is a big deal for students on financial aid).

    Tough, but while I get the plight of the bookstore, when you think of good neighborhood bookstores, Labyrinth in New Haven certainly wasn’t that.

  • EzraCornell

    Perhaps Labyrinth could take a page from Ithaca’s Buffalo Street Books. An employee started a movement for a community buyout and was successful. They sold $250 shares in the cooperative and work shares, raising $300,000 to buy the inventory, incorporate as a coop, rehab the space, and they reopened within three weeks under community ownership.–as-a-co-operative.html

    Good luck!

  • JohnnyE

    Professor tells you that you can pick up a book at Labyrinth. You show up and it costs you $25 and takes two weeks. You look online at amazon, and they have it for $10 and can get it to you in a few days.

    Not a loss for Yale students…

  • Jaymin

    Sure, there’s a certain aesthetic to small bookstores, but c’mon, if Amazon can sell you the same product for half the price, at some point we have to admit that it is a superior business model. The steam engine has overtook the water wheel.

  • KarlPohrt

    Whenever I’m in New Haven I visit Labyrinth Books. You’re lucky to have this excellent store in your community. If you think the Amazon algorithm (‘Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought’) can replicate the experience of browsing a bookshop like Labyrinth, you will be disappointed.

  • Jaymin

    The experience of browsing a bookshop like Labyrinth: 5 minutes finding the right shelf; 10 minutes trying to find your book on that shelf; 3 minutes relinquishing enough of your manly pride to ask the cashier for assistance; 2 minutes for the cashier to lookup the book on inventory; 10 minutes walking back to TD, disappointed that they didn’t have your book.

    The experience of browsing Amazon: search; find the cheapest vendor; buy; done.

  • grumpyalum

    Jaymin – You have no soul.

    Though I agree with you in this circumstance. The problem is that Labyrinth is a BAD independent bookstore, with a crappy aesthetic quality, no meaningful sense of who its consumers and just generally filled with unfriendly staff.

  • rbJE10

    Labyrinth is like the CT Limo of bookstores. Nothing but comically overpriced, time-devouringly tardy, and painfully tedious experiences that no paying customer should ever tolerate.

  • Jaymin

    I may have no soul, but I sure do have a limited budget.

  • NathanJRobinson

    “Grumpyalum” is right. The problem with Labyrinth isn’t that it’s impossible for independent bookstores to compete with Amazon, it’s that Labyrinth is a BAD independent book store. It’s uninviting and overpriced. Good riddance!

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