Independent Bookstores

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Between the Kindle and Wal-Mart vs. Amazon price wars, what’s a bookstore to do? Three local independent booksellers talk about their business and the first Independent Bookstore Week NYC: Marva Allen, managing partner of Hue-Man Bookstore in Harlem, and Christine Onorati, owner of WORD bookstore in Greenpoint , and Sarah McNally, owner of McNally Jackson bookstore on Prince Street.

Where do you buy books? Comment below.

Check out the guests' book recommendations in The Scrapbook.


Marva Allen, Sarah McNally and Christine Onorati

Comments [37]

Alan King

"A Community's Bricks and Mortar: Karibu" Read it at

Dec. 07 2009 08:41 PM
Boghos Nazarian

For exotic books about Armenia and the Near East, visit NYC's Armenian Prelacy Bookstore (39th St betw Lex and 3rd; and NYC's St. Vartan Bookstore (2 Ave @ 34th St;

Dec. 02 2009 12:37 PM

I am a fan of Brownstone Books in the Stuyvesant Heights section of Brooklyn, on the border of Bedford Stuyvesant. In addition to the books we all love, this shop supports the community with events like writing workshops and children's storytime. There is not a business like it within walking distance so it's quite a treasure here.

Nov. 21 2009 12:35 AM
Shane Donovan from Sugar Hill

An indy store I love is The Raconteur in Metuchen, NJ. The readers and performances that come through are outstanding and the acoustics are the best around

Nov. 18 2009 08:11 PM
Gloria from West Orange

There are indeed some great independent bookstores in NYC, and I've visited a lot of them. But I venture to say that very little is known about similar stores here in NJ. I know that this is IBNYC Week, but could we show a little love to those independents we frequent in the Garden State.

Nov. 18 2009 11:47 AM
Roberta Israeloff from E Northport NY

For NYC exiles like myself in the Huntington, Long Island area, the place for books is Book Revue, owned and operated by the book-loving Klein brothers since 1977. Readings, signings, coffee and a huge selection - the store has it all.

Nov. 18 2009 09:46 AM
Linda Viertel

The Village Bookstore in Pleasantville, New York, is the only independent bookstore in our area since Second Story closed in Chappaqua recently. We buy every book we purchase from this store (they will order/find any title)- never on Amazon - and, when the Jacob Burns Film Center, across the street, has authors speaking, films derived from novels, or non-fiction writers commenting on films, they are on hand with books available so the audience can leave the movie theatre, go home, and dive into a book. The store is helpful to the Hudson Valley Writers' Center as well, and provides readings, local authors' books, community events. The Village Bookstore is a vital contributor to life on the Hudson River, and we would be bereft without it.

Nov. 17 2009 07:24 PM
Joanna from Queens

Also Bluestockings in the LES!

Nov. 17 2009 04:45 PM
Joanna from Queens

There are hardly any bookstores in Queens, but the Queens Library is amazing! I hear it has one of the highest circulations in the country. But in Manhattan I like Shakespeare & Co.

Nov. 17 2009 04:41 PM
susan epstein from Florham Park, NJ

I buy my books at "Sages Pages" which is located in Madison, NJ. It is owned by a woman named Lillian and it is staffed by men and women who live locally. The store has a huge selection for every age and interest. Most important from the customer's point of view, if the book is not on the shelf, the store will obtain a book ( that's in print ) the next day. Not only do they have have books but they also have talks given by local authors and toys from the just born to the teen. "Sages Pages" pulls its customers from most of the surrounding towns and the salespeople are familiar with repeat customers. Frankly the store is the "staff of life". I have been with "Sages Pages" since its conception to its present expansion. I hope that they are never forced to go out of business.

Nov. 17 2009 02:16 PM
Matt from UWS

I've used Abebooks but I prefer to use, which functions like a meta-search engine for 40+ book sites (e.g. Strand, Powells, Abebooks), and (they claim) 20K+ sellers.

The front page is where you can search for "in print" and new books. Just beneath the search box is a link to searching out-of-print and used books. The engine returns prices (incl s/h) for whatever it finds, making comparison shopping easy.

Nov. 17 2009 12:56 PM
Rebecca Mark from Stamford, CT

Could you repeat the books that each
book store owner suggested as 'must'..
particularly the one with the word 'breathing'
in the title...
Just tried to listen for it..and read the
text..but couldn't find it...

As always...really admire your interviews...

Nov. 17 2009 12:32 PM
Lucy Redoglia from UWS

I LOVE LOVE LOVE my local used bookstore: Westsider Books. If I need something specific, I go to Strand — they have everything under the sun!

Nov. 17 2009 12:12 PM
David Airey from Lake Peekskill, NY

I love the 'Bruised Apple Books & Music' store here in 'upstate' Peekskill.
Mostly used, valuable and out-of-print books, but also very interesting local history new books. It's a wonderful old-style store with a very knowledgeable, helpful and friendly owner. It's almost impossible to come out empty-handed, and in these times the price of used books allow me to be self-indulgent!

Nov. 17 2009 12:09 PM
Carol from NJ

There is NOTHING better than independent bookstores. If anyone is ever in Newton, MA, The New England Book Fair is a wonderful place to browse. I grew up in Newton and this warehouse full of books is very nostalgic to me.

Nov. 17 2009 12:07 PM
Billy Gray from Greenpoint

WORD in Greenpoint is extremely valuable to me, and I always check them first to see if they have what I'm looking for. I also really love stopping in, especially walking home from work or the Y. I don't need a cafe in my bookstore, thanks. People should focus on what they're good at, a book store is not a drive-thru ;-)

Nov. 17 2009 11:59 AM
Gerard from Vermont

Thanks for the info re: Labyrinth.

ABE was mentioned: fyi, it's now owned by Amazon. Try, still independently owned, for used books.

Nov. 17 2009 11:59 AM
Sandra from Astoria, Queens

I love(d) Biography Bookshop, which used to be across the street from Magnolia Bakery--it was tiny but well-stocked and great for bargains (and for that post-cupcake sugar buzz)!

But I think they've moved up the street to Bleecker between 6th and 7th aves and changed their name to BookBook?

I also love St. Mark's.

Nov. 17 2009 11:58 AM
Andy from Brooklyn

I'm confused... How are independent bookstores not commoditifying books? They aren't libraries.

Nov. 17 2009 11:58 AM
Susan from NYC

My favorite booksellers are two guys on B'way and 109th who seem to gather whole collections from people who have had to unload their books all at once. So you see that person's tastes, interests, academic background or profession all at once.

Nov. 17 2009 11:56 AM
leo just launched its Local Book Search, which tries to making searching for books in your area as convenient as searching Amazon. Are these bookstore owners aware of this service and do they think it will help their business?

An example of the Local Book Search in use:

Nov. 17 2009 11:54 AM

I love McNally Jackson in Soho (whose owner is feautured on the show).

I also was thrilled when Posman books opened in Chelsea Market! It has a great selection for a small space.

Nov. 17 2009 11:53 AM
Christopher Deignan from Middle Village

Yeah, it's gotta be Strand, it's just a fun place to hang out. To your point about Amazon's book suggestions, I find them annoying, absurd and insulting. The idea of an algorithm figuring what I like is yeah, as you said yourself Brian, creey. It's a real treat to be in a real bookstore where the owner is obviously a real book lover rather than be in a Barnes and Noble although the independents must be suffering because of the lack of space for people to hang out and drink coffee while they read.

Nov. 17 2009 11:53 AM

How long has the Harlem store been in operation? Has her rent gone up due to gentrification? Does she offer readings and signings?

Nov. 17 2009 11:52 AM
Paul from west side

Sorry, but your first guest has neglected a major group of people who speak with readers day in and day out -- LIBRARIANS!

If ever there was an unsung group devoted to readers and helping people find information, it is them. Unfortunately, since they don't generate profits our society doesn't value their service.

Nov. 17 2009 11:52 AM
Annmarie from Westfield, NJ

HousingWorks Bookstore on Crosby in SoHo is run mostly by donations and volunteers all to benefit services for New Yorkers dealing with AIDS.

Nov. 17 2009 11:51 AM
Andy from Brooklyn

Book Culture (formerly Labyrinth) on 112th between B'way and Amsterdam. They have a good large selection. More importantly, their employees receive benefits. There's no difference between an independent bookstore and a website if they aren't treating their workers well.

Nov. 17 2009 11:51 AM
Elliot from Brooklyn Heights

Unnameable Books. It's really all about that place. I think it's on Carlton in Brooklyn?

Nov. 17 2009 11:50 AM
Matt from UWS

Gerard from Vermont:

FYI, the owners of Labyrinth split up so now the store on West 112th Street is called "Book Culture"; it remains a wonderful store, and totally independent from Labyrinth.

Labyrinth runs a store in New Haven and another in Princeton, plus a big website.

Nov. 17 2009 11:34 AM
Matt from UWS

COME ON, SERIOUSLY!! How could no one mention STRAND BOOKSTORE?!
I see their bags all over town and I'm thrilled. It's a wonderful mix of order and chaos...


Nov. 17 2009 11:29 AM
Bob from Brooklyn

Park Slope Community Book Store is a great store, but MORE IMPORTANT: a dog, cat, rabbit, fish and iguana live there and can be visited as you browse.

Nov. 17 2009 11:28 AM
Gerard from Vermont

I own a small bookstore in Vermont, but lived in New York for many years until last fall. I particularly miss Crawford & Doyle on the Upper East Side. It's a small store full of treasures, and the owner has read everything. Labyrinth near Columbia is great for academic, poetry, and small press books.

Nov. 17 2009 11:13 AM
Ari from Brooklyn

Word is a fantastic bookstore to browse or to place a special order with. I'm so glad to see that Christine will be on WNYC and can't wait to listen.

Nov. 17 2009 10:25 AM
Zan Kelly from Where Astoria becomes LIC

Thank You For Talking About Bookstores!!So few bookstores out here BUT the one we have is one of the best I have known in 40 years as a New Yorker: Seaburn Books on Broadway in Long Island City. A wonderous haven of new and used volumes, owner operated, full of discounts, a magical welcoming place. Orders arrive in days. Only other bookseller I like is Edward R. Hamilton, by catalog and on line: a treasure trove of remainders at fair price and cheap shipping.

Nov. 17 2009 10:16 AM
Priya from Brooklyn

BookCourt on Court street in Cobble Hill/Boerum Hill. I believe it's family run, the owners or managers live upstairs (a woman and her son). It's light and airy inside, the staff are incredibly nice and intelligent. They have great local selections (which is important as it is Brooklyn). AND best of all they support Sundays at Sunny's a reading series in Red Hook.

Nov. 17 2009 10:14 AM
Michael M Thomas from Brooklyn

Brooklyn is home to some of the best independent bookstores in the city, fully a match for any in Manhattan (and I've been buying books in the city since 1952). In DUMBO, there's P.S. Books, used, new, collectible. a match for the Strand. On Smith Street, Heights Books new store, presided over by the eminent and learned Richard Bernstein, also used, near-new and collectible. And, finally, Bookcourt on Court Street for new books, readings, loyalty to Brooklyn writers (although I wasn't asked to read my new novel there, but still...)

Nov. 17 2009 10:12 AM
Gabrielle from brooklyn

I buy from St. Marks Bookshop all the time out of loyalty. I feel they know their customers very well. It is obvious in their stock. They always have great books onhand that I never would've come across online. That alone has created a sense of solidarity between me and the store. It feels great giving them my money to pay their bills and keep the doors open.

McNally Jackson has great events and I've heard interesting things about a dating service at WORD.

Nov. 17 2009 09:01 AM

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