Where to Find Indie Bookstores in New York City

By Danielle Tcholakian on April 30, 2014 6:17am 

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 Don't write the obituary for the indie book scene in New York City just yet.
New York City's Indie Bookstores
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NEW YORK CITY — Don't write the obituary for the independent bookstore just yet.

Even though many have been closing across New York City — most recently Rizzoli, which shut down its longtime Midtown location earlier this month to make way for a new development — there are still dozens of small, locally-owned places for bookworms. 

The owners and managers of several of the city's thriving literary stores said their secret is a combination of attracting loyal customers devoted to supporting small shops and diversifying their business model to offer more than just books.

Many local stores, from BookCourt in Cobble Hill to Housing Works in SoHo, see their stores as a community space where they hold events as a way to draw in new clientele and keep their business going.

"For us, it's being an event space, both public and private, that really helps to sustain us," said Heidi Tannenbaum, store manager of Housing Works, which hosts The Moth twice a month, regular parties for the web company Tumblr and even weddings.

CHECK OUT DNAINFO'S MAP OF INDIE BOOKSTORES ACROSS THE CITY:

BookCourt manager Andrew Unger, 25, agreed that events are a major element of making an independent bookstore sustainable, but he said customers deserve credit, too. 

"The biggest thing for a store is being in a neighborhood where people read a lot of books," Unger said. "One of the reasons we do so well here is because books are so important to the people who live here."

His colleague Sophie Stewart, 23, said it's also about "being in a neighborhood where people... make a conscious decision to support businesses as opposed to doing the easy thing," ordering books online.

"They understand that where you spend your money on that one book makes a difference as to whether the store can stay in business or not," Stewart said. "That's really nice, and it's those people who help keep stores open."

Customers shopping at McNally Jackson in NoLita recently said they were happy to do their part to support local bookstores.

"It's a deliberate choice," said Peter Ryder, 73, who comes to McNally Jackson for its "variety and depth and knowledgeable personnel." 

Bonnie Slotnick, who owns a bookstore in the West Village stocked with used cookbooks, said a culture of book lovers is part of what makes the neighborhood a place where indie stores can thrive.

In addition to Slotnick's store, the neighborhood is home to several new, used and specialty book shops including Left Bank Books on Eighth Avenue and Three Lives on West 10th Street.

"It's the last neighborhood in Manhattan that presents itself as a place where the arts are of interest," Slotnick said. "The Upper East Side certainly isn't. And the Upper West Side is about babies and shopping."

Indie bookstores are also thriving in Brooklyn, with several new ones opening up across the borough in recent years, from Unnameable Books in Prospect Heights to Spoonbill and Sugartown in Williamsburg. Spoonbill even put together a 2014 calendar featuring 12 of the borough's bookstores.

But the city's indie offerings aren't limited to literary Brooklyn or Downtown Manhattan. Astoria, Queens, is home to two stores — Enigma, for science-fiction and fantasy lovers, and Astoria Bookshop on 31st Street.

Staten Island boasts a bookstore with a small eatery in Tompkinsville, Everything Goes Book Cafe.

The Bronx is the only borough without an indie bookstore, since Books in the Hood closed in 2011, though The Lair in Morris Park is a veritable treasure trove of new and classic comic books.

Below are some fan favorites from each of the five boroughs. Have a go-to bookstore we missed? Let us know in the comments below.

MANHATTAN

The Corner Bookstore

1313 Madison Ave., Upper East Side

The Corner Bookstore is an industry darling. Housing Works manager Heidi Tannenbaum said it's her favorite store (after Housing Works, of course).

"It's just your vision of what a bookstore will be," she said. "You walk in and it's just a dream."

The shop is so idyllic, it was used as the charming independent bookstore owned by Meg Ryan's character in the movie "You've Got Mail."

BROOKLYN

Molasses

770 Hart St., Bushwick

Bushwick resident Justin Ahiyon, 30, said his local bookstore Molasses has the community space business model down pat, complete with a full bar that serves wine and beer as well as coffee.

"You never really know what you're going to find," Ahiyon said.

QUEENS

Astoria Bookshop

31-29 31st St., Astoria

Astoria's local book haven hosts a variety of unique community events, including meditation and creative writing workshops. The shop also has its own in-house book club.

STATEN ISLAND

Everything Goes Book Cafe

208 Bay St., Tompkinsville

Everything Goes just celebrated its 30th anniversary on Staten Island's North Shore. Owned by the borough's resident hippie commune Ganas, the store offers organic coffee and hot chocolate, local art, CDs, vinyl records and used books, as well as an inviting garden patio where customers can hang out and read their new purchases.

THE BRONX

The Lair

1808 Colden Ave., Morris Park

While The Bronx is without an indie bookstore, The Lair is a comic book lover's dream. The shop is even giving away comic books this Saturday, May 3, for Free Comic Book Day.

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