BY BEN TOGUT | On Sunday, Reverend Billy and the Stop Shopping Choir gathered at the East Village’s Earth Church to saint beloved bookstore owner Jim Drougas.
The owner of Unoppressive Non-Imperialist Bargain Books, at 34 Carmine St., Drougas is being forced to clear out the premises of his store after the building’s new owners jacked up his rent, plus demanded he pay six months’ rent upfront.
Sunday’s event at the Earth Church, at 36 Avenue C, was a wonderful opportunity for the community to give their thanks to Drougas for his work running the radical bookstore for more than 30 years.
Reverend Billy, real name Billy Talen, celebrated Drougas and Unoppressive Non-Imperialist Bargain Books by comparing the store to a healthy forest.
“He runs an ecosystem there,” Talen preached. “We learn and grow, and by the time we get to the front door, whether or not we bought anything in that place without oppression and without imperialism, we are highly complexified and we are unique.”
While praising Drougas and his work, Talen also bemoaned the rise of an investor class that, he claims, in shutting down the bookstore, is trying to establish a “monoculture” in character-filled communities like Greenwich Village and the East Village.
“The investor class wants us to be consumers, and as consumers they’re reducing our desires, not to stories, not to something rich in complexity, but to trends, to data, to marketing,” Talen declared, punctuated by sounds of indignant dissent from the choir. “They want us to be as simple as possible because we are their victims. The investor class has now arrived ready to take the soul of our neighborhood from us.”
Throughout the ceremony, Talen and the Stop Shopping Choir broke out into gospel songs emphasizing the importance of community. Despite his often serious tone, there was an undeniable campiness to Talen’s performance. Clad in a pink suit, the Reverend preached about how we all must work together to protect the environment, leading the choir in chanting “Earth-alujah!”
Drougas, who sported his signature brown Stetson hat, was deeply moved by the performance.
“Thank you so much,” he said. “I’ve had so much acknowledgment over all these years. This is the best ever.”
While Drougas has yet to find an affordable space to relocate, he stressed this is not the end of Unoppressive Non-Imperialist Bargain Books, revealing he has been in talks with an art gallerist about a new place on Ninth Street.
As much as the sainting felt like the end of an era for Drougas and the Village, it was also a celebration of the iconic bookstore owner and his enduring legacy.
“That bookstore will not leave us,” Talen proclaimed. “Jim Drougas will not leave us. He will continue to curate our experiences. And as he continues to do that, in whatever forms it takes, he is making us revolutionaries.”