While the era of big bookstore chains dominating the business of reading is slowly coming to a close, the scrappy, independent booksellers who stood in defiance for so long seem to be hitting their stride. True, it’s a strange and challenging time to be an independent bookstore; more and more people are buying e-readers and fewer and fewer young people seem to be reading. But not everywhere.
In New York City, where people are so fiercely proud of their cultural institutions, independent bookstores are, if not flourishing, certainly staying the course. Some of these stores like Housing Works Bookstore, Strand Book Store, McNally Jackson, Bookcourt, and St Mark’s Bookshop are legendary and have been lauded for decades. But it certainly doesn’t end there, and there are many other shops that deserve some literary love. Here is a selection of some of the wonderful but lesser-known bookshops where New York City’s locals go (and tourists should go) to get their fill of the written word.
Book Thug Nation
What it lacks in size, Williamsburg’s Book Thug Nation (www.bookthugnation.com) makes up for in heart. Started by four booksellers who sold their wares on street corners for years, BTN is rooted in the belief that independent bookstores play a vital role in fostering a city’s creativity. Besides being a community space and having a fantastic collection of used fiction, BTN also has one of NYC’s best collection of zines for sale – underground legend and the godfather of zines, Aaron Cometbus, is one of the owners.
Originally opened as a feminist bookstore on the Lower East Side, Bluestockings has since expanded its focus to encompass the much larger theme of global justice. A worker-owned co-op, the bookstore also acts as a vegan/fair trade café and an activist center. And they’re really nice people. If Angela Davis, Marshall McLuhan, Howard Zinn and Michel Foucault are on your reading list, Bluestockings is the place you want to shop.
The Complete Traveller Antiquarian Bookstore
Have you figured out how to time travel? (If so please take me along!) Your last stop before jumping into ye olde time machine should be at the Complete Traveller Antiquarian Bookstore in Murray Hill, a specialist in rare and collectible travel books, including long out-of-print travel guides They also trade in rare maps, so that way when we get back to the 17th Century all we’ll really have to worry about is whether or not our 21st century vaccinations will hold up against whatever monstrous diseases they had back then.
While they carry books on a wide range of topics, 192 Books excels in the realm of art books, possibly due to their proximity to all the Chelsea galleries. For art lovers, what sets 192 Books apart are their art shows accompanied by books relating to the artists or themes in the exhibition. It’s a multimedia experience, yo – and a free one at that. With all the pretty words and images that one finds at 192 Books, you could easily lose the better part of a day there.
Unoppressive Non-Imperialist Bargain Books
Having perhaps the most impressive bookstore name ever, the West Village’s Unoppressive Non-Imperialist Bargain Books (unoppressivebooks.blogspot.com) is exactly what the name implies. The books are very cheap: a curated mixture of new and remaindered books, so it’s the kind of store you don’t necessarily go to when looking for a specific title. Instead, you pick up whatever it is that they happen to be stocking at the moment. If you’re a fan of biographies or books dealing with the counterculture, this is your spot.
Do you enjoy poetry or books about unexpected and quirky subjects? Unnameable Books (unnameablebooks.blogspot.com) is for you. Originally called Adam’s Books, until a textbook publisher of the same name threatened a lawsuit, Unnameable Books is Prospect Heights’ favorite bookstore. Unnameable’s following is a devoted one, partially because of its selection of new and used books, partially because of the events it holds and partially because everybody loves the owner, the readily nameable Adam.
Bonnie Slotnick Cookbooks
There’s a fine line between devotion and obsession and Bonnie Slotnick (bonnieslotnickcookbooks.com) is a woman who walks it. For over 15 years her little bookshop has been selling rare and out-of-print volumes to adoring cookbook aficionados from around the world. Whether you’re looking for vintage issues of Gourmet or a book of 18th century peasant recipes, Bonnie is so dedicated to helping you find what you’re looking for, that she will even help you browse for it by phone! Make sure to call ahead before visiting the West Village shop because her hours change weekly.
WORD (www.wordbrooklyn.com) is more than just a store that vends books. It’s to a community space for people who live in the neighborhood and who like to read. From a David Foster Wallace appreciation society, to book release parties, to a basketball league where the teams have bookish names like ‘A Tree Dunks in Brooklyn,’ WORD is in the community business just as it is in the book business. Plus it’s incredibly cute – it’s in Greenpoint, Brooklyn after all.
Stuart Schuffman, aka Broke-Ass Stuart, has written travel guides for Lonely Planet but is probably best known for his print and online guides to living cheaply in San Francisco and New York and his recent book Young, Broke & Beautiful: Broke-Ass Stuart’s Guide to Living Cheaply. Follow Stuart on Facebook and Twitter.