Earlier this week, the New Yorker published this review of the Amazon Bookstore, which comes to the conclusion that a brick-and-mortar store designed off the Amazon homepage is lackluster at best. The review is pretty interesting, and definitely worth a read, but clearly an Amazon bookstore seems like a dystopian post-bibliophile reality. The author of the article sites McNally Jackson as her favorite independently owned bookstore, so, if you’re similarly against Big Books…here’s a list of my favorite Manhattan bookstores you can visit instead of the Amazon store.
1. Housing Works Bookstore
Located in SoHo, Housing Works is my absolute favorite bookstore. With a cozy library type of vibe, they have a small, but heartily stocked library, including one of those tables where staff pick their favorite books and write out on index cards what they like so much about their favorite reads. After picking out at new read, you can head to the café at the back of the store. Come back on a night the store is hosting an event, and the café doubles as a performance space where they host regular readings and storytelling events. And the best part: the proceeds from the store go directly into the Housing Works non-profit which combats the “twin crises of AIDS and homelessness,” so you can feel good about blowing all your grocery money on books even though you still have a shelf full of new books you haven’t read yet. All of their staff works on a volunteer basis so not only is it socially conscious, but every person there genuinely loves books. (And if you really like to spend money, there’s a pretty cool thrift store next store also run by Housing Works).
129 Crosby Street
If socially conscious bookstores are your thing, you’re in luck. Bluestockings on the Lower East Side is known for shelving titles and hosting events, readings and workshops that are rooted in Feminism and Social Activism. They have regular titles too, though, and with a staff that’s also entirely comprised of volunteers you know you’re dealing with people who know their stuff when it comes to books. They also have a fair-trade cafe in the store, and I’ve heard rumors that the “feminist bookstore” bit on Portlandia was inspired by this place.
172 Allen Street
3. The Strand
The Strand is a New York classic, just a block away from Union Square. If you love the vastness of a Barnes and Noble but it hurts your heart to think about how big bookstores are beating out indie stores, the Strand is for you. The front of the store is mostly bestsellers (perusing the “modern classics” table is like falling into a black hole for me), but as you venture further to the outskirts of the store you can find almost any genre. They also buy and sell used books, if newly printed books aren’t your thing. Because of this, they’re a goldmine for cheap or rare books. I once found a limited print collection of James Joyce poetry there for five dollars.