Skip

The Resurgence of Indie Bookstores in New York
August 2, 2010 9:58 AM   Subscribe

Indie Bookstores Rising: New York takes a look at a new crop of indie bookstores in New York City that are defying predictions of the death of the independent bookstore.
posted by ocherdraco (49 comments total) 10 users marked this as a favorite

 
My response to any new bookstore is --Yay! And on the other side of the reading spectrum, interesting article today in our local paper about interactive digital book reading.
posted by bearwife at 10:04 AM on August 2, 2010


McNally is still open because McNally-Robinson closed most of their stores in Canada so their darling daughter could keep alive her dream of living in New York City. Now that they don't have a property they can sell in Calgary for millions of dollars in profit (and then blame the city for "not supporting" them) maybe they'll go under too.

Also, NYC isn't the rest of the world.
posted by ethnomethodologist at 10:06 AM on August 2, 2010 [2 favorites]


I am currently visiting SF - and Citylight Books seem to be doing very well. The store manager told me the underlying reason is that the landlord sold them the real estate for a fair but reasonable price. As with all retail - real estate and land costs can do more to sink a book store than the lack of book and magazine sales. The selection and 'curating' at Citylights is spectacular and I always leave with an armload of books.

The GAP had been eyeing the Citylights space for a flagship location before the final sale took place. Can you fucking imagine that!? And this from a company that grew up in SF too. Shame!!!
posted by helmutdog at 10:12 AM on August 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


I've had to reluctantly spend a little bit at Barnes and Noble in the last couple years because they were the only store that carried some of the AP & SAT study guides that my daughter needed (in time to get them, with her just-in-time father-informing practices, anyway) but it's always pained me to even walk into the place.

On the other hand, about 1/5th of my disposable income goes to Book People. It's not quite City Lights, which is probably the first bookstore I can remember actually going in when I was a kid, (I'm getting nostalgic in my oldage) but it's pretty well-stocked, and staff works hard to find stuff for you when you have no clue where to look. I hope they can hang in there -- I do my best to steer people toward them when I can.
posted by Devils Rancher at 10:13 AM on August 2, 2010


Wow, I'm really glad the Book Thug Nation guys finally got a store. I used to hang out with them back when they were still doing it outdoors off Astor Pl. Even helped them hustle books one day and got some free ones in return. They're great guys and were always awesomely friendly. I hope the store is doing well.
posted by griphus at 10:13 AM on August 2, 2010


Dang it helmutdog, I previewed, but was fixing a typo. Screw the Gap, then.
posted by Devils Rancher at 10:14 AM on August 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


Also, NYC isn't the rest of the world. (ethnomethodologist)

You'll notice that this post doesn't imply that, but rather implies that this is a local phenomenon.
posted by ocherdraco at 10:15 AM on August 2, 2010 [4 favorites]


But local to the center of the world.
posted by Combustible Edison Lighthouse at 10:17 AM on August 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


First, it's not McNally-Robinson anymore, it's McNally-Jackson. Second, I don't care what had to be sold to keep it open, it's my favorite place in New York City. Third, an independent business is allowed to do whatever they hell they want to make themselves happy, including letting their daughter live in NYC. This is the point of being independent. You get to own your lifestyle.
posted by spicynuts at 10:28 AM on August 2, 2010 [2 favorites]


I just wish this resurgence could have come early enough to save Murder Ink.
posted by JaredSeth at 10:29 AM on August 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


I think the surviving independents have a mix of good management and excellent luck. Since I moved to the SF Bay Area about 10 years ago, three book selling institutions I loved have failed.
posted by zippy at 10:31 AM on August 2, 2010


I'm pretty certain ebook readership is going to crush the paper book market down to a sort of boutique-antique-fetish market. Meanwhile, though, is there such thing as a bricks-and-mortar store that lets you buy electronic books and music straight to your ebook or player in addition to buying printed materials to carry home? A sort of listening lounge and gathering place and cafe with the option to try and buy electronic publications?
posted by pracowity at 10:32 AM on August 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


Upon moving to NYC from a small town where indie bookstores were the epicenter of local culture, I was pretty surprised how few of them there are here. Thanks for posting!
posted by hermitosis at 10:32 AM on August 2, 2010


Your indie bookstores are surviving? This Torontonian is super-jealous. In the last year or so, we've lost:Toronto Women's Bookstore almost closed 6 months ago; we'll see if their latest scheme lets them survive another year or not. And there are rumours that Glad Day (LGBT bookstore) is on its way out too.
posted by heatherann at 11:05 AM on August 2, 2010


Glad to hear it. But does anyone have any idea what's meant by "riot" here?
The new booksellers bring a modern approach to the business: In place of the dusty riots of yore are more curated, well-lit shops that emphasize personal service and community...
posted by languagehat at 11:06 AM on August 2, 2010


I'm pretty certain ebook readership is going to crush the paper book market down to a sort of boutique-antique-fetish market

Right after the Paperless Office, right?

I mean, of course ebooks are going to continue to grow in popularity, but I manage a used book and music store and we're having one of our best years ever. *shrug* From here, it sure looks like people are still reading the fuck out of books.
posted by mediareport at 11:06 AM on August 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'd like to second the article's endorsement of Unnameable Books on Vanderbilt in Prospect Heights, and give a shout out to Spoonbill and Sugartown on Bedford in Williamsburg. Both lovingly curated, and equally wonderful for browsing or buying.
posted by foxy_hedgehog at 11:07 AM on August 2, 2010 [3 favorites]


I mean, of course ebooks are going to continue to grow in popularity... From here, it sure looks like people are still reading the fuck out of books.

Yep. There are serious freedom, usability and cost problems with ebooks. I'd love to have a reference library in e-form but for everything else it's still paper and will be for the foreseeable future.
posted by DU at 11:13 AM on August 2, 2010


I think the writer is using "riot" in the sense of "riot of color(s)." What's wrong with jumble?
posted by Mister_A at 11:13 AM on August 2, 2010


And there are rumours that Glad Day (LGBT bookstore) is on its way out too.

Apropos of nothing, but about 25 years ago, I was walking down the street and spotted a gay bookstore, and I was thinking "I need me a thesaurus. I think I'll stop in there and see if they have one." When I asked the proprietor for a thesaurus, he said indignantly "Sir, this is a gay bookstore!" I replied "So, gay people don't ever need thesauruses?" He just stared and blinked, and I kind of just left at that point. I had sort of wished them well, at first. Sigh.
posted by Devils Rancher at 11:20 AM on August 2, 2010


Language Hat: Glad to hear it. But does anyone have any idea what's meant by "riot" here?

The new booksellers bring a modern approach to the business: In place of the dusty riots of yore are more curated, well-lit shops that emphasize personal service and community...


I think they are using riot as in "unrestrained profusion," implying that old-time independent booksellers were always disorganized, crammed messes that were difficult to navigate.
posted by whimsicalnymph at 11:20 AM on August 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


But does anyone have any idea what's meant by "riot" here?

The OED might point to one meaning:
6. Revelry, celebration, merriment, esp. of an unrestrained, lively, or noisy nature; (in extended use) noise, hubbub.

c1440 (?a1400) Morte Arthure l. 412 Thene the roy reall rehetes thes knyghttys Wyth reuerence and ryotte of all his rounde table. a1522 G. DOUGLAS tr. Virgil Æneid (1957) IV. Prol. 159 Lat ws in ryot leif, in sport and gam. a1681 R. ALLESTREE 40 Serm. (1684) I. vi. 83 It is to chuse the riot of one meal, one good feast, and to starve the whole remainder of a mans life. 1728 J. THOMSON Spring 23 To swell the Riot of the gathering Feast. 1739 P. WHITEHEAD Manners 8 What sing-song Riot, and what Eunuch-squawling. 1794 A. RADCLIFFE Mysteries of Udolpho I. vi. 173 A sound of many voices in loud merriment burst upon her ear. It seemed not the laugh of cheerfulness, but of riot. 1815 J. SCOTT Visit to Paris (ed. 2) Pref. p. lxv, The free vent given to what may be termed the clamour and riot of satisfaction by the absence of official arrangement. 1841 DICKENS Old Curiosity Shop I. xix. 197 Quickening their steps to get clear of all the roar and riot. 1873 W. H. DIXON Hist. Two Queens II. XII. vii. 326 With bray of snorting horns and riot of exploding guns. 1920 J. FARNOL Geste of Duke Jocelyn xii. 251 The air thrilled with this merry riot. 1966 A. J. ARBERRY tr. M. Iqbal Javid-nama 35 Unto the passion of minstrelsy give leave to clamour and riot, Give wine again to profligate and censor. 2005 A. SAGE Magyk xviii. 183 After ten years of waking every day to the busy sounds of The Ramblings, not to mention the riot and hubbub of the six Heap boys, the silence was deafening.
Old bookstores are a celebration of dustiness and decay, perhaps?
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 11:21 AM on August 2, 2010


I'm pretty certain ebook readership is going to crush the paper book market down to a sort of boutique-antique-fetish market.

Not until the readers become near giveaway in price. Which I suppose could happen. Meantime, for beach reading do you really want to bring a three figure electronic device, putting it at risk of sand, theft, water, and that guy who catches the frisbee but elbows your ereader good and hard on his way down?

Sidetrack - has anyone published a study on user acceptance? Of people who have, price question aside, tried ebooks and found the experience too off putting?
posted by IndigoJones at 11:22 AM on August 2, 2010


But does anyone have any idea what's meant by "riot" here?

Means the writer is trying to show off. Or be funny. Take your pick.
posted by IndigoJones at 11:27 AM on August 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


* Librairie Champlain (1960–2009; the last Francophone bookstore in the city)
* This Ain't The Rosedale Library (1979–2010; apparently the proprietor read every book he stocked)
* Pages Books and Magazines (1979–2009, liked to stock things that Chapters/Indigo had banned)
* David Mirvish Books (1974–2009, excellent art bookstore)


And the Queen West Book City (2008?-2010)
posted by ManInSuit at 11:41 AM on August 2, 2010


Thanks, whimsicalnymph and Blazecock Pileon. I think you've got it. It was just a little too oblique for me to parse.
posted by languagehat at 11:58 AM on August 2, 2010


As someone who spent a couple hours in Uncle Hugo's a couple weeks back, I'm glad the indie bookstore market is rebounding some. The logistics and finances of stocking a store where you're potential inventory could fill a skyscraper (especially if you only have one of everything) make a small bookstore look horrible on paper, but the experience and service they provide is so much more important than that.
posted by AzraelBrown at 12:01 PM on August 2, 2010


I liked all of these bookstores before you did.
posted by elder18 at 12:13 PM on August 2, 2010


nthing Unnameable Books. I live a few blocks away, and when they opened- over a weekend, apparently out of the blue- I was like, holy shit. If Crown Heights gets a record store, I will NEVER LEAVE.
posted by 235w103 at 12:18 PM on August 2, 2010


ocherdraco> You'll notice that this post doesn't imply that, but rather implies that this is a local phenomenon.

Maybe. But then again, I don't think I'd expect that a post about the rise of indie bookstores in Cleveland or St. Louis would have remained greenlit for very long. In the online world, at least in the US, it often seems like there's only five cities that matter; New York, San Francisco, Portland, Seattle and Austin.
posted by elmwood at 12:19 PM on August 2, 2010


I don't think I'd expect that a post about the rise of indie bookstores in Cleveland or St. Louis would have remained greenlit for very long. In the online world, at least in the US, it often seems like there's only five cities that matter; New York, San Francisco, Portland, Seattle and Austin. (elmwood)

I think a post about the resurgence of independent bookstores in either of those cities (or others like them) would have been welcomed, had such a post been made. If I had found a series of articles on that subject, I would have posted it. I'm sorry, I tried really hard to make it clear that this post is about a local thing, and not extrapolate it to other places. As a mefite who lives in New York (and who grew up in the kind of place that gets little attention on sites like MeFi or in the media), I'm very aware that other folks are (justifiably) annoyed when New Yorkers treat New York like the center of the earth.

It is just as frustrating, however, to be tarred with the brush of New York-centrism when I took time to frame my post to avoid just such a thing. I did not say the post was about the American independent bookstore community as a whole, I identified that the articles are from New York magazine, and about New York City bookstores. If I have overlooked something in that regard, I apologize, and please let me know about it, because I would like to avoid it in future posts I make about the city where I live.

I care just as much about Birmingham and Nashville and New Haven (and especially Decatur, Alabama) as I do about New York, and will gladly post interesting links about those cities when I find them.
posted by ocherdraco at 12:43 PM on August 2, 2010 [4 favorites]


New York, San Francisco, Portland, Seattle and Austin.

Vomits on Elmwood on purpose. Philly represent!
posted by Mister_A at 12:48 PM on August 2, 2010


I haven't been to a few of these shops and they look great. Thanks!

I also second Spoonbill & Sugartown on Bedford. The table they have up front always has interesting stuff on it. I rarely leave without a new book.
posted by defenestration at 12:51 PM on August 2, 2010


Thanks, Ocherdraco. I found your post to be really interesting, especially since the article highlighted WORD bookstore in Greenpoint. I was just there last week, for a romance novel panel that was held to celebrate the new romance section they had opened in the store. It was pretty awesome. It actually got a write-up in Time Out!
posted by suburbanbeatnik at 12:59 PM on August 2, 2010


Meanwhile, though, is there such thing as a bricks-and-mortar store that lets you buy electronic books and music straight to your ebook or player in addition to buying printed materials to carry home? A sort of listening lounge and gathering place and cafe with the option to try and buy electronic publications? posted by pracowity at 1:32 PM on August 2


Google Editions should offer this flexibility soon after it launches. It will be available to any bookstore, but many in the industry doubt the the chains will offer them as, well, they'd be competing with their own higher margin platforms. Some think it could provide an excellent opportunity for independents, if they're willing to participate.

The one thing that I wondered about after looking at the financials listed for Greenlight—where are shipping, taxes, and the repayments on the borrowing? They show an $11K profit every month but don't list those three very large items as expenses. They've got $220K of debt, service on that debt has to be at least a third of that 11K. They also don't list shipping. In the book business shipping is a killer expense as the retailer pays both ways—books coming from the publisher, and unsold books returned to the publisher. And then there are taxes—not just sales tax, which they're probably collecting so that should be a wash, but they also pay payroll taxes, taxes on earnings, and depending on their lease, maybe even all or a portion of property taxes. Those three items can easily eat up those profits.

I'm also concerned about their inventory expenses vs. sales. Using standard industry discounting, their inventory is shrinking by a total value of about $2,000 every month—that's in volumes sold and then not replaced. I know the article is supposed to put a positive spin on this, but looking at those financials has left me with more concerns than hope, at least for Greenlight.
posted by Toekneesan at 1:15 PM on August 2, 2010


I'm not recognizing a lot of these locations, which tells me they're probably way off in Brooklyn. Curse you, Brooklyn, for your nifty bookshops which may just make me hop on a series of train for a 2-hour subway ride! Curse you right to heck!
posted by Eideteker at 1:39 PM on August 2, 2010


Um, folks complaining about the article being only about NYC bookstores: the name of the magazine the articles appear in is New York. Just sayin'.

PS: I work in a NY indie bookstore, so yay.
posted by kidelo at 2:46 PM on August 2, 2010


I don't think I'd expect that a post about the rise of indie bookstores in Cleveland or St. Louis would have remained greenlit for very long.

I would be surprised if it didn't, myself, but then my read on the MetaFilter crowd is that contains more than enough bookworms to cheer on a post about the resurgence of indie bookstores wherever it's happening. We certainly hear plenty about the threats to bookstores. Even a Poets & Writers series on US independent bookstores launched earlier this year (covering, to date: Oxford, MI; Portland, OR; Chicago; Milwaukee) has a tone that seems to me more elegiac than celebratory, though it focuses on stores that appear pretty successful.

I love independent bookstores. If they can thrive in New York, I'm happy to hear it - maybe, against the odds, it will inspire others elsewhere.
posted by EvaDestruction at 3:39 PM on August 2, 2010


In San Francisco, Bird and Beckett Books & Records has been surviving by becoming the neighborhood go-to place for art and culture, with live jazz on Fridays and Sundays, along with the usual book readings etc. you expect from an independent bookstore.

I'm there most Fridays for the jazz, if you want to say hi!
posted by phliar at 3:51 PM on August 2, 2010


Oh HELL. Oxford, MS. My sixth grade social studies teacher would be so disappointed in me right now.
posted by EvaDestruction at 4:29 PM on August 2, 2010


I just wish this resurgence could have come early enough to save Murder Ink.

.
posted by mlis at 5:28 PM on August 2, 2010


There's a bookstore thread without mention of Green Apple Books here in San Francisco? For shame.

(My current rule is no more than 5 books or 100 bucks per trip, whichever is more.)
posted by mollymayhem at 6:26 PM on August 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


Dammit, ocherdraco! I'm in NYC for another month and I've already overspent my book budget by an embarrassingly large amount. And now I have another half-dozen bookstores that I have to visit.

The book-buying part of my brain thanks you.
posted by twirlip at 9:25 PM on August 2, 2010


Meantime, for beach reading do you really want to bring a three figure electronic device, putting it at risk of sand, theft, water, and that guy who catches the frisbee but elbows your ereader good and hard on his way down?

You say "three figure electronic device" as if it were a hugely significant price for some sort of very delicate instrument, but people (including you, most likely) use their three-figure electronic telephonic devices at the beach, on boats, in the rain and snow, in the woods, while fishing, while driving, while eating, while using toilets and urinals, while riding bicycles, and so on and on. They throw them into the bottoms of backpacks and handbags. Sometimes they accidentally drop them into outhouses or rivers. Occasional loss is a risk people are already quite willing to take with their three-figure electronic devices. People will use ebooks in all of the same places.
posted by pracowity at 10:48 PM on August 2, 2010


I loved Spoonbill & Sugartown the day I first walked in and they had Autobiography of Red on their display table. Not Life of Pi, not Jane Austen and Sea Monsters, but Anne motherfucking Carson. My boyfriend and I spent our first date browsing their display section and petting the store's huge orange cat that looks like it's part Triceratops. We've since moved a few blocks equidistant from Greenlight and Unnameable. I've frequented Greenlight lots since I'm in Fort Greene a lot more than Prospect Heights, but now I might spend my day off at Unnameable. Lovely post, ocherdraco!
posted by zoomorphic at 6:47 AM on August 3, 2010


I just wish this resurgence could have come early enough to save Murder Ink.

What was the other nearby bookstore on Broadway in the Upper West Side? Google isn't turning up much, but it wasn't mystery-centric, just a nice little independently-owned bookshop in the late 80s on Broadway. Or was that Murder Ink and I just kept bypassing enormous mystery sections for plain old fiction?
posted by zoomorphic at 6:51 AM on August 3, 2010


Murder Ink was twinned with Ivy's Books. They werebetween 92nd and 93rd.
posted by plastic_animals at 7:09 AM on August 3, 2010


There was a Shakespeare & Co. on Broadway at 81st that closed in 1996.
posted by mlis at 11:05 AM on August 3, 2010


You say "three figure electronic device" as if it were a hugely significant price for some sort of very delicate instrument, but people (including you, most likely) use their three-figure electronic telephonic devices at the beach, on boats, in the rain and snow, in the woods, while fishing, while driving, while eating, while using toilets and urinals, while riding bicycles, and so on and on. They throw them into the bottoms of backpacks and handbags.

I wish I were that rich or carefree. (Well, rich, at least.)

Instead, I'm old enough (or poor enough) to find three figures to be a significant price point. The cell phone? I have one ultra cheap no monthly fee edition that I keep only for emergencies. It is turned off for months at a time.

(Truly, though, you wouldn't be more pissed off at breaking/losing a Kindle to breaking/loosing a mass market paperback of, say, Girl With The Snake Tattoo? Esp. if you didn't really like the book in the first place? Factor in please the guilt over What Your Electronic Junk Is Doing To The Environment before you answer.)
posted by IndigoJones at 5:16 PM on August 3, 2010


« Older And now you know...the rest of the story.   |   Food for Thought, Indeed Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments



Post