Village Cookbook Shop Battles E-Books with Vintage Charm

By Andrea Swalec on February 27, 2012 8:42am 

GREENWICH VILLAGE — As publishers and tech companies vie for position in the changing book market, the owner of a West 10th Street cookbook shop and her customers say e-books can't beat the enduring appeal of well-loved kitchen manuals.

Bonnie Slotnick Cookbooks specializes in vintage cookbooks, which are arranged by cuisine and region and stacked to the ceiling of the cozy shop Slotnick, 58, has run for 12 years at 163 W. 10th St., near Seventh Avenue South.

Kindles, Nooks and iPads can guide someone through making a meal, but they will never have the emotional value paper cookbooks have, said Slotnick, a Village resident of more than three decades.

"I don't think people are going to treasure their grandma's Kindle notes the way they treasure these handwritten notes," she said as she flipped through a recipe book with details scrawled at the bottom of its pages.

French-trained chef Gary Barawidan, 32, said he follows 14 food blogs on his iPhone but vintage cookbooks are where he finds true inspiration.

"You get gossip and trends online, but context and history in print," said Barawidan, who discovered Slotnick's shop last year and has become a regular.

"Old cookbooks are special," he said. "They're pieces of someone's life and energy."

Longtime customer and frequent cook Jessica Reed, 35, has used a Kindle for two years,but said she doesn't want to prop up her e-reader in the kitchen.

"There's still something about that physical connection," she said of using cookbooks.

E-readers have features to simulate the paper experience, she said, "but it's not the same."

Loraine Enlow, who recently visited Slotnick's shop for the first time, said she treasures the old cookbooks in her family and loves finding antique books to add to her collection.

"It's exciting to be in a place like this where you're surrounded by all these objects," said Enlow, 39. "It's visually and tactily stimulating in a way that you can never replicate online."

People's constant interest in the details of domestic life in other periods is part of the appeal of old cookbooks, said Slotnick, who buys her wares from people's private collections.

Bonnie Slotnick has run Bonnie Slotnick Cookbooks on West 10th Street in Greenwich Village for 12 years, as of February 2012.
Bonnie Slotnick has run Bonnie Slotnick Cookbooks on West 10th Street in Greenwich Village for 12 years, as of February 2012.
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DNAinfo/Andrea Swalec

"It's the same reason why people like shows like 'Downton Abbey,'" she said, referring to the British drama set in the early 20th century.

"Eating is a universal thing, so old cookbooks offer an interesting perspective on a time," Slotnick said as she cleaned books covers with a bright pink paste called Magic.

"You learn about time periods you didn't live in, like that green color was the color of that time," she said, pointing to a photo of a dessert covered in flaked coconut dyed pistachio green.

Enlow, who runs an after-school program for children, said she already notices that children don't have the same connection with physical books that she had as a child.

"Not all of these will make it online," she said, gesturing to the room packed with books. "I'll be sorry to lose this physical connection. I think it's already being lost."

E-books can't rival the tactile pleasure real books provide, cookbook shop owner Bonnie Slotnick and her customers said in February 2012.
E-books can't rival the tactile pleasure real books provide, cookbook shop owner Bonnie Slotnick and her customers said in February 2012.
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DNAinfo/Andrea Swalec

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