As Joe Fox told Kathleen Kelly in You’ve Got Mail, it would be a shame to miss New York in the spring—particularly New York City’s bookstores. Each store has its own style and personality, which is reflected in the books it carries and the art showcased on the walls. To choose among the dozens of bookstores in the city, we asked several authors and booksellers to be our guides.
For those coming into Grand Central Station or staying at the Grand Hyatt New York, this year’s ABA bookseller hotel, the best place to start is Posman Books. Its Grand Central store carries a selection of 30,000 titles. It has two additional stores, one in Rockefeller Center and the other in Chelsea Market.
Near the Chelsea store is 11-year-old 192 Books, a general bookstore with new, rare, and out-of-print titles, owned by husband-and-wife team Jack Macrae (an editor at Henry Holt) and Paula Cooper (a renowned gallery owner). 192 Books has an especially strong selection of art books and often displays works by artists shown in Cooper’s gallery (the current exhibition features photographs by Eliot Porter). The bookstore is also one of three small, carefully curated New York City favorites of author and Parnassus Books co-owner Ann Patchett. Her other picks are Crawford Doyle Booksellers on the Upper East Side and Three Lives & Company in Greenwich Village.
“I love [them] all for the same reason,” says Patchett (This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage). “They show that a great bookstore can be made out of very few square feet if you have a brilliant buyer who really understands what his or her customers want; a warm staff that makes you feel welcome in their home—because going into a small store is very much like going into someone’s small apartment; and a deeply creative use of space so that the books are well displayed without feeling crammed in.”
Three Lives is an Anne Rice favorite as well. “I had some of the most memorable signings there. Marvelous people. The crowds attending had a distinct personality, like no other in Manhattan.”
For children’s books, visit one or both New York City institutions, 44-year-old Bank Street Books, part of Bank Street College, or Books of Wonder, founded in 1980. Author V.E. Schwab (The Unbound) calls the latter “an incredible store. It has a wonderful selection, much of it signed, and they host spectacular events, from debuts to blockbuster names. Ever since I first started writing, it’s been a dream of mine to be shelved there, and I still get worked up when I see my books in their stock.”
Books of Wonder is also among the picks of Tim Federle (Five, Six, Seven, Nate!). “I love Books of Wonder, because it’s like a magic old-time candy shop full of no-calorie stories,” he says. He mentions two other favorites: “Housing Works in SoHo boasts amazing events and deals, and there’s no place like the Strand Book Store to get yourself lost, and get a good book found.”
What distinguishes the Strand, with its “miles of books,” from other bookstores, according to marketing manager Brianne Sperber, is “its ability to maintain a smalltown, local feel, despite the store’s size and vast collection. Apart from the bargains and rare finds, what I can say above and beyond is that both our customers and booksellers are people who just really, really love books.”
Unlike the Strand, or any other bookstore in the city, for that matter, Housing Works Bookstore Cafe is a nonprofit with a volunteer staff, and all its books are donated, including some from PW. The proceeds go to Housing Works Inc., which provides services for homeless New Yorkers living with HIV/AIDS. “We’re often told,” says director of public programming Amanda Bullock, “that the store, which has great dark wood bookcases, complete with rolling ladders, and spiral staircases to our mezzanine, feels like a hidden treasure and a sanctuary in the craziness of SoHo.”
McNally Jackson Books in Nolita is another sanctuary for visitors and locals alike; it includes McNally Jackson Store: Goods for the Study, a separate upscale office-supply store. The Strand’s Sperber singles it out as one of the independents that reflect the “quirks and charms” of its neighborhood.
Book Culture owner Chris Doeblin also tries to carry inventory that reflects the needs of his community, at both his stores on the Upper West Side, next to Columbia University. “Our neighborhood defines us to a great extent,” he says, “and we reflect that in our stock. I think we are a little different from other bookshops in our small size and in our nonbook merchandise. We have chosen to embrace selling merchandise that is not books, and we pay particular care to that part of our business.”
Thirty-three-year-old BookCourt, the oldest independent in Brooklyn and the Village Voice’s Best Bookstore in New York City for 2012, paved the way for what has become a Brooklyn renaissance. A dozen stores have popped up in the borough over the past few years, with a new McNally Jackson bookstore slated to open in Williamsburg this fall. Even seemingly established Brooklyn stores, like five-year-old Greenlight Bookstore and seven-year-old Word, are relatively new.
Greenlight reflects its Fort Greene/Clinton Hill setting, focusing on fiction, children’s books, cookbooks, art and design, and everything Brooklyn. “Our mix of author events, children’s programming, community partnerships, displays and features, and our customer service are all in the service of being the best bookstore we can for this neighborhood, and for the wider literary community of New York and beyond,” says co-owner Jessica Stockton Bagnulo.
Word, which is based in Greenpoint and which opened a second location in Jersey City, N.J., late last year, specializes in eccentric cards and stationery, staff picks, new releases, paperbacks, and a highly curated selection of kids books, according to events director Jenn Northington.
It may be difficult to visit every New York City bookstore during BEA. Even most locals haven’t been to every shop on the list. “Someday I’ll find the time,” says Greenlight’s Bagnulo. “On my list to visit are some of the great new shops that have opened in the past couple of years—La Casa Azul in East Harlem, Astoria Bookshop in Queens, and Molasses Books in Bushwick—and some of the great older shops that are like stepping into another era: The Corner Bookstore, Crawford Doyle, St. Mark’s Bookshop.”
Bank Street Bookstore
2879 N. Broadway
Book Culture on Broadway
536 112th St.
Crawford Doyle Booksellers
1082 Madison Ave.
30 Rockefeller Plaza
192 10th Ave.
75 Ninth Ave.
Grand Central Station
9 Grand Central Terminal
Books of Wonder
18 W. 18th St.
Three Lives & Company
154 W. 10th St.
Housing Works Bookstore Cafe
126 Crosby St.
McNally Jackson Books
52 Prince St.
126 Franklin St.
136 Court St.
686 Fulton St.