Who is Nancy Bass Wyden? Millionaire Strand Bookstore owner pleads for public help despite $1M PPP loan
New York is known for its iconic locations and one of those locations is the Strand Bookstore, an independent bookstore located at 828 Broadway, at the corner of East 12th Street in the East Village neighborhood of Manhattan, New York City, two blocks south of Union Square. The Strand Bookstore has operated for nearly a century but the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic is troubling its business.
On Friday, October 23rd, the bookstore's Twitter account shared a message that their revenues had dropped nearly 70 percent compared to the previous year, "and the loans and cash reserves that have kept us afloat these past months are depleted." In the statement shared on Twitter, owner Nancy Bass Wyden stated, "I’m going to pull out all the stops to keep sharing our mutual love of the printed word. But for the first time in The Strand’s 93 year history, we need to mobilize the community to buy from us so we can keep our doors open until there is a vaccine."
:mega: We need your help. This is the post we hoped to never write, but today marks a huge turning point in The Strand's history. Our revenue has dropped nearly 70% compared to last year, and the loans and cash reserves that have kept us afloat these past months are depleted. pic.twitter.com/mI074pigZu— Strand Book Store (@strandbookstore) October 23, 2020
Wyden told her customers that "the next few months will determine the future of The Strand," and that "we need to mobilize the community to buy from us so we can keep our doors open until there's a vaccine."
Earlier this year, in March, the bookstore had laid off 188 employees as it paused business due to the onset of the pandemic. Eventually, The Strand began to reopen, first with curbside pickup, then with a lower occupancy inside its bookstore. In July, after rehiring about thirty-three union members, a dozen were laid off again.
But it would seem that not everything is as clear-cut. After The Strand's message was shared, many took to social media to point out that Wyden herself was a millionaire and that the company had taken a Payroll Protection Program loan of $1-$2 million from the federal government during the pandemic.
Wyden inherited The Strand from her father, Fred Bass in 2018. Her father had, in turn, inherited the bookstore from his grandfather, Benjamin Bass, who founded the bookstore in 1927. Wyden is married to Senator Ron Wyden, representing Oregon. The couple has been married since 2005 and has three children. In 2016, they sold their 5,300-square-foot townhouse in Manhattan for $7.5 million.
A financial disclosure report from 2015 showed that Senator Wyden and his wife earned at least $2.5 million last year, and that did not include Wyden's Senate salary of $174,000. The lion's share of the income went to Nancy Bass Wyden. She is also the one who owned most of the assets listed in the report, which are worth at least $8.5 million. The disclosure report covering 2011 said she had assets worth between $12 million and $56 million from the Strand-related businesses. Nancy Wyden reported earning more than $1 million in 2014 from the bookstore operations and more than $1 million from a related real estate arm.
According to a report from The Baffler, Wyden – who owns the building -- purchased between $220,010 and $600,000 in Amazon stock. Federal records also show that she has bought between $3 million and almost $7.9 million in stock – Senate financial filings, which include spouses’ records, show a range of values, not specific amounts -- investing heavily in tech (between $112,007 and $300,000 in Alphabet/Google, between $175,007 and $450,000 in Apple, and between $110,005 and $300,000 in Facebook), fossil fuels (between $15,001 and $50,000 in Exxon Mobil and between $2,002 and $30,000 in Royal Dutch Shell), and medical supplies (between $50,001 and $100,000 in 3M).
Will Bobrowski, a shop steward representing The Strand workers in the Union told The Baffler that the average worker costs the Strand $5,200 per month, including all benefits and taxes. Bass Wyden’s stock transactions in July alone were thus equivalent to employing between 113 and 300 workers. Other current and former Strand employees told the publication that Nancy Bass Wyden may not be interested in running a bookstore at all. The Baffler writes, "instead, it seems that she is more driven to leverage the Strand’s independent history into building a boutique brand, and she is taking the pandemic as an opportunity to do so."