For a few years, my friend Howard Wolfson and I had been lamenting that there was no prize that recognizes the best book each year either about or set in New York City. The greatest city in the world, in our view, deserved its own book prize. But we didn’t do anything about it.
Then covid hit and New York suffered more than almost any other state, both in terms of deaths and hospitalizations but also in terms of jobs. In fact, we’re still down around 450,000 jobs since the pandemic began.
If you think about New York City, there are almost two versions of it. The first is for those of us who live here: the streets, the subways, the schools, the parks. But the rest of the world experiences New York differently — through books, movies, tv shows, songs, photographs, visual art, podcasts and so much more. Our view was that for as long as New York maintains its mystique through the arts — as long as people are capturing and promoting the city through mediums like books — it will always attract the best and brightest from across the globe and our city would always survive.
That led to the creation of the Gotham Book Prize, which awards $50,000 each year to the best book set in or about NYC (so far, the two winners have been Deacon King Kong by James McBride and The Invisible Child by Andrea Elliot). As we were recruiting the jury and getting to know them, my main reaction was “this is pretty cool.” And that led to “what else can we do with this?”
I always thought it’d be fun to own a bookstore one day. I love books. During the first year of covid, I tried to read 100 books within the calendar year. I failed (made it to the low 90s — it wasn’t worth it) but it was clear to me that owning a bookstore could be both a lot of fun and serve as a welcome departure from my work in politics, which these days seems to be more about pitting people against each other than anything else. Bookstores are the opposite — they bring people together.
And in the same way that covid made the case for the Gotham Book Prize, it made the same case for opening a bookstore today, rather than when I’m retired decades from now. After a long search for the right space, we landed on the ideal spot for our bookstore: 180 Orchard Street between Houston and Stanton.
But we didn’t just want to create a traditional bookstore. Where’s the fun in doing what’s already been done? So we added a few components. The first is a podcast studio that you can see at street level and is open and free to anyone to use. To our knowledge, it is the only podcast studio of its kind. The second is an event space where we can give authors a place to tell their stories, but just as important, give community groups across the Lower East Side a place to gather, hold meetings and host events without it costing them anything. The third is a cafe. And the fourth was to run the bookstore a little differently than most, especially by taking care of our employees. That’s why we became the first bookstore that we’re aware of that provides full, top notch benefits to every member of our team whether they’re full time or hourly at no cost to our employees (no different than everyone who works for Tusk Venture Partners, Tusk Holdings, Tusk Strategies or Tusk Philanthropies).
Then I realized I still wanted even more than that. I wanted to create something iconic, something that’s on the itinerary of anyone visiting the Lower East Side whether you’re a New Yorker, a commuter or a tourist. And that’s where our name came in.
When my family came to this country after World War II, there weren’t many jobs available to Jews who survived the war and didn’t have a formal education. But the garment business was always an option. So my grandfather — Hyman Tusk — and a friend of his from the refugee camps in Germany — Mike Pudlo — started a tiny sweater store on Allen Street called P&T Knitwear. My father recalls most of the shelves holding empty boxes to make it look like they had actual inventory.
When we found the spot for our store at 180 Orchard Street, I sent my dad a text asking exactly where my grandfather’s store was. Turns out, it was right around the corner from our location. Then I asked the name. My dad responded, “P&T Knitwear.” And when he told me “You can’t call a bookstore P&T Knitwear,” that settled it.
Our journey officially begins today with our grand opening. This is my first retail business so I’m not sure whether we’ll succeed, but I know we have the right team in place, led by the incredible Julie Wernersbach. I think we’ve built something special, something unique. If you happen to be in NYC — especially if you’re already on the Lower East Side — please see for yourself. Whether it’s to buy a book or record a podcast or attend an event or just have a coffee, we’d love to host you.
And we’d love to know what you think. So if you do get a chance to visit P&T Knitwear and have any ideas, comments, complaints — anything we can learn from — please let us know at email@example.com.
Thanks for reading this and hope to see you at the bookstore!