Indie Bookstores of New York City

A blog about Independent Bookstores in NYC and how they are surviving in the digital age

Tag: Book Culture

Book Culture on Columbus

Name: Book Culture on Columbus

Location: 450 Columbus Avenue, New York, NY

Website: http://www.bookculture.com

Description: As a re-introduction to my blog, I thought it would be fitting to start with the third Book Culture location referenced in my first post. Book Culture on Columbus is the largest and most different stylistically from the other two locations that I visited previously (albeit that was almost two years ago, so perhaps they have since changed). As with the location on West 114th Street, the front of the store is brightly lit by large windows. However, Book Culture on Columbus’ size provides for a more spacious entryway. A unique layout allows for two different browsing experiences depending on where in the store you choose to walk. On the left, large tables filled with books run from one end of the store to the other. On the right, a series of narrow, dimly lit passages provide a more intimate way to browse some of the store’s other wares such as teapots, hourglasses, bowls, and lotions. Venture far enough, and you will find an uncluttered writing desk with a sign inviting visitors to sit down and write a letter. The sign says, “ Please use our stationary and desk to write a letter. It’s time well spent in an art worth keeping. As you take pen in hand, you may feel your heart open as you prepare to set yourself to paper.” The sign also kindly notes that Book Culture will pay for the stamp and post your letter if you leave it in the letter holder located on top of the desk.

What I Liked: There are two features of this store that stand out from the other Book Culture locations I have visited. The first is the writing desk tucked away for only the most dedicated bibliophiles and lovers of words. The second feature can be found on a relatively small table in the center of the store’s main room and located almost directly in front of the cash registers. Mysterious packages wrapped in plain, brown paper sit unassumingly on display. Upon closer examination, book browsers will find hand written messages taped to the front of these packages, which say “Read Me if you liked,” followed by a list of four books similar to the one hidden underneath the wrapping. I liked this concept so much that I purchased one for myself. I was not at all disappointed with the result. While, I would love to go into further detail about this particular element, I hesitate for fear of giving away any possible surprises.

How they are combatting the Pressures of the Digital Age: As mentioned in my prior post about the Book Culture locations, the store’s strong digital presence enhances the in-store shopping experience, and Book Culture’s numerous events encourage patrons to visit the stores in person. In revisiting the page, the store has added two features, which appear to be keeping pace with some of the contemporary trends of the Internet Age. The first of these additions is the offering of a subscription service called Book Culture Selects. By signing up for Book Culture Selects, subscribers can choose from several categories including “Queer Voices,” “Picture Books,” “Poetry,” “Literature in Translation,” “Forever Young (Adult)”, “Around the World,” and “New and Noteworthy” for both fiction and non-fiction. Books will be shipped depending on reader preference, ranging in frequency from one to three months, and come with a handwritten letter and bookmark that doubles as a feedback card. When clicking on the “Learn More” link below each category, shoppers are directed to a page that introduces the Book Culture staff member responsible for choosing the books you will receive as part of your subscription, giving the service a personal and neighborly feel.

The second feature that Book Culture has added is the option to join as a one-year member. For $49 a year, membership to Book Culture provides access to exclusive members-only events and sales, as well as a 10% discount on all purchases, and free shipping should you choose to make use of the selection of books available online. The store also offers a student membership at a reduced rate and in partnership with select universities and colleges. This membership provides students with a 10% discount on in-store purchases (112th and 114th only) as well as on all coursebooks.

On the Success of New York City’s Independent Bookstores

I found this article, “5 Reasons Why NYC Bookstores are Doing Better Than You Think,” while searching for new bookstores to explore. As the title suggests, the article discusses the idea that Independent Bookstores – especially those located in New York City – are thriving. I was particularly excited to see that author Nicole Levy referenced several of the bookstores I have visited, including Book Culture, The Strand, and Greenlight Bookstore. She also includes several interesting and pertinent statements from the owners of those bookstores. One particularly relevant thought from Chris Doeblin, owner of Book Culture, relates to the idea that, in part, independent bookstores are thriving because big chains are failing. Levy quotes Doeblin as saying:

“With Borders gone, Barnes & Noble failing, it’s viable for more and more bookstores to be opening, because people are still reading. It’s still a vibrant part of people’s lives and I think there’s an under availability of books in lots of places, certainly in New York City.”

The article is definitely worth the read, but for those short on time, here is the summary.

Independent Bookstores in New York City are thriving because:

  1. Big chain bookstores are slowly going out of business leaving a gap that independent bookstores are more capable of filling.
  2. Experimentation with “new markets” and marketing methods such as pop up shops are leading to better brand and store awareness.
  3. The rising trend is to support communities by shopping locally.
  4. Because of strong community ties, and with the help of a website called IndieBound, Independent bookstores are better equipped to stock what their customers want to read.
  5. Independent bookstores often sell other items besides books and are known for their events, which also help to foster a sense of community for readers.

For the full article please click here.

Book Culture

Name: Book Culture

Book Culture on Broadway, West 114th Street

Book Culture on Broadway, West 114th Street

Locations:

  • 536 West 112th Street
  • 2915 Broadway (at 114th Street)
  • 450 Columbus Avenue

Website: http://www.bookculture.com

Description: Book Culture on Broadway is a small independent bookstore on the corner of West 114th Street. Though this store is much smaller than its other locations, it offers a similar selection of books and other items to be browsed. A pleasant aroma permeates the air as customers peruse well-stocked shelves and display tables. Large storefront windows, allow the shop to get plenty of natural light, and provide an enticing display for passers-by. The store on 112th is perhaps a little harder to find, but a small sign placed on the corner of Broadway and 112th points curious pedestrians and other book-loving individuals in the right direction. Despite its larger size, the Book Culture on 112th provides just as intimate a book browsing experience as the smaller store on 114th. I have not yet visited the location on Columbus Avenue, but I am hoping to make a trip there soon.

Staircase in Book Culture on West 112th Street

Staircase in Book Culture on West 112th Street

What I like: Aside from the cozy atmosphere, Book Culture has several nice features that stand out. The first is that, as you peruse the books, you will see little notecards taped to some shelves. These notecards are staff recommendations and provide the customer with the book title, staff name, and a brief explanation of why they like the book. These recommendations range from new releases to classics and cover every genre, so there is something for everyone. I also like this feature because it demonstrates that the staff are just as interested in reading as the customers and it helps create a feeling of community within the store. Additionally, Book Culture sells a variety of products aside from books including backpacks, mugs, water bottles, and candles. Book Culture does a good job of choosing objects that relate to books and those who read them.

Paddywax Library Candles with scents inspired by authors such as Oscar Wilde, Edgar Allan Poe, and Jane Austen

Many of their non-book wares also have literary themes such as coasters, mugs, t-shirts, and socks made by a New York City based company called Out of Print that creates their designs by using cover art from classic books. I also like that they have these other items scattered throughout the store instead of placing them in one corner because it enhances the browser experience. For example, in the store on 114th, they sell kitchen items, which are placed near the cookbooks.

How they are combating the pressures of the digital age: Book Culture appears to be managing well during the age of E-books and Amazon. They not only have three store locations, but have established a website where they sell books and other book- related products such as literary t-shirts and tote bags. Book Culture also carries the staff recommendations from store to website, creating a continuity of ideas between their online presence and physical presence. The recommendations also allow the website to maintain the small bookstore feeling, while appealing to a wider audience because of its place online. Additionally, the store has its own blog – easily accessible from their website – where they post about diversity in literature, community interests, and author Q & A’s. In the store on 112th, signs that explain the importance of supporting independent bookstores hang over some of the tables. The stores on 112th and Columbus Avenue also host numerous reading, signing, and discussion events with authors, which encourages readers to come to the physical stores instead of browsing online.

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