Looking for those rare Independent Bookstores left in New York City? The following New York City indie bookstores, our favorites, give us hope. Some are moving and/or expanding; others are upping their antes by offering perks such as membership, language classes, celebrity book signings, writing workshops, and more. By Local Expeditions team member Stephanie Schroeder.
With the venerable downtown Brooklyn bookstore BookCourt closing after 35 years, we are left wondering about the viability of independent booksellers, and of printed books as well. Whether the e-reader killed the printed book or Amazon.com has murdered independent bookstore viability, there are still many indie booksellers in New York City.
There are the behemoth independents, The Strand and McNally Jackson. And there are outposts of the national chain Barnes & Noble, though they have become fewer. But, there is nothing quite like browsing books in an intimate space carefully designed for the word-loving indie bookstore consumer.
Melville House Bookstore is housed a tiny storefront tucked into 58 John Street, around the corner from Brooklyn Roasting Company’s Cafe in DUMBO. In fact, there is a semi-secret passageway between Brooklyn Roasting and the bookstore! Melville House is an independent publisher with offices in Brooklyn and London and its publishing office is located behind the bookstore. Aside form its own imprint; Melville sells books from Akashic, PowerHouse, Archipelago, Ugly Duckling, Hanging Loose, Umbrage and many other local indie presses. This is a gem of a literary bookstore, a must for any bookworm visiting DUMBO. (In fact, two of our Local Expeditions tours stop at the Melville House Bookstore, CITIBIKE DUMBO and FERRY TO DUMBO.)
Bluestockings is a 100% volunteer-powered and collectively owned radical bookstore, fair-trade cafe, and activist center. Bluestocking has been a staple on the Lower East Side for the past 15 years and has changed and morphed, remodeled and upgraded, and now has an online bookstore component as well. Bluestocking’s inventory focuses on works by feminists, queers and writers of color and books, chapbooks, and other materials questioning the status quo. Bluestockings actively supports all movements challenging all systems of oppressions. Just inside the bookstore is a small cafe with free trade coffee and vegan pastries as well as a tiny restroom. The space hosts nightly events with a suggested donation of $5, with no one turned away for lack of funds.
Greenlight Bookstore in Fort Greene, Brooklyn, has expanded, and its latest outpost recently opened in the Prospect Lefferts Gardens section of Flatbush. Born of an outpouring of community support, including winning a business plan competition, garnering individual and organizational donations, investments by local nonprofits, loans from community lenders and more, founders Rebecca Fitting and Jessica Stockton Bagnulo opened Greenlight in the fall of 2009 and the rest, as they say, is history. Greenlight is now the official vendor of the Brooklyn Academy of Music and has a small kiosk inside BAM to augment their literary and other events, and even partners with BAM for part of their programming.
Travel bookstore and language school, Idlewild Books, took its moniker from the original name for New York International Airport, which was renamed JFK in December 1963. Originally opening in Manhattan’s Flatiron District, Idlewild’s two locations are now located in Manhattan’s Greenwich Village and Brooklyn’s Cobble, Hill. The premise of Idlewild is that “a novel or travelogue can be just as valuable a key to a place as any guidebook, and our well-read, well-traveled staff is happy to make reading recommendations for any traveler, book lover, or gift giver.” Additionally, all travel guidebooks are discounted by 10%. The bookstore also hosts language classes in French, Spanish, Italian and German.
Greenwich Village favorite, Three Lives & Company is tucked into a small storefront on West 10th Street at the corner of Waverly Place. The bookstore specializes in “literary books that might otherwise be overlooked” and is frequented by many local writers as well as fans of literature.
WORD Bookstores started in Brooklyn and expanded to Jersey City. You can count on WORD to have the coolest book launches, readings, and panels in the borough. The store specializes in music-themed events and has hosted many celebrity music writers as well as up-and-coming local music makers and writers.
Queens’ Astoria Bookshop is located under the elevated N/Q train stop. The shop hosts regular community events, a reading group, and features Queens writers among their stock. Astoria Bookshop stocks only new inventory and does not purchase or accept donations of used books.
Meanwhile, Unnameable Books is a buyer and seller of both new and used books in the burgeoning retail scene on Vanderbilt Avenue in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn. Local writers frequent Unnamble Books for out-of-print books and rare finds, while visitors to Brooklyn can be sure to recognize their favorite authors on the shelves.
Housing Works Bookstore Cafe is a community center in the downtown Manhattan area. The stock is all donated material and the space has events open to the public most nights. One hundred percent of profits go to Housing Works, a “healing community” and advocacy group dedicated to eradicating both homelessness and HIV/AIDS.
Next time you’re in The Big Apple and get the hankering to go to a good ‘ole fashioned bookstore, #DoWhatLocalsDo and visit one of our neighborhood’s Independent Bookstores.