Indie Bookstores of New York City

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

Tag: Bookstores (Page 1 of 3)

Independent Bookstore Day 2018

Saturday, April 28th was Independent Bookstore Day. In a prior post on the subject, I explored the event’s background and discussed some of its potential benefits for local bookstores. This year, however, I wanted to experience the event for myself.

2018’s Independent Bookstore Day was marked with the usual promotions designed to entice book-lovers such as exclusive items and one-day-only sales. The Brooklyn Bookstore Crawl, now in its third year, boasted more than 30 participating bookstores across the borough. New for 2018 was an official after party where Bookstore Crawl participants could mingle with local authors and bookstore employees. The entry fee? A receipt dated April 28, 2018 from any independent Brooklyn bookstore allowed admission to the event and granted attendees one grand prize raffle ticket. Additional receipts that met the same criteria also provided participants with raffle tickets. In other words, the more you shopped and supported your local bookstores, the better your chances of winning a gift basket of book-related goodies from “Out of Print.” Social media posts that utilized the #BKBOOKCRAWL hashtag and individual bookstore tags entered participants for a chance to win other prizes from book-related and Brooklyn-based companies including Bed-Vyne Brew, Brooklyn Museum, House of Yes, and Litographs.

In addition to the annual Brooklyn Bookstore Crawl, the Strand Bookstore and eleven other New York City-based independent bookstores collaborated to offer a multi-day, citywide scavenger hunt. Each participating store asked patrons to find items or complete various tasks at each location and post their efforts on social media with the hashtag #IndieBookstoreDayNYC. Participants that used the hashtag to document their scavenger hunt finds would be entered “for a chance to win bookish swag.” Although I was unable to visit all twelve bookstores on the list, I did have a chance to visit three of the participating stores – Book Culture on Columbus, the Strand, and McNally Jackson Soho – which I will discuss in three upcoming posts.

So now two key questions: 1) Did Independent Bookstore Day 2018 achieve its goal of creating “a one-day national party” that celebrates the diverse range of independent bookstores and the communities they inhabit? and 2) Did Independent bookstore day increase both awareness and sales for these local stores? Data from Instagram shows that posts using the #indiebookstoreday2018 hashtag were just over double the number of posts using the hashtag from the prior year, suggesting that awareness of the day, at least, did increase from last year. An article released by Publisher’s Weekly notes that “507 indies in 48 states” had plans to participate in 2018’s Independent Bookstore Day – a 5% increase from the prior year – and The American Booksellers Association published an article quoting their CEO, Oren Teicher who states that, “sales in the indie channel for the week of [Independent Bookstore Day] this year were up 9.54 percent over sales in the comparable week in 2017.”

These figures do suggest that Independent Bookstore Day is not only a growing “holiday,” but also an excellent way to increase store revenues. Special activities, like the scavenger hunt or bookstore crawl, both encourage sales and showcase the uniqueness of or “personality” of each store. The activities provide a means for participant exploration and immersion while also allowing bookstore patrons to experience the sense of community that these stores embody. I am curious to see how stores will choose to participate next year!


Brooklyn Bookstore Crawl Logo from:

Publishers Weekly: “Independent Bookstore Day 2018: It’s a Holiday”

American Booksellers Association: “Fourth Independent Bookstore Day a Nationwide Hit”

Book Culture on Columbus

Name: Book Culture on Columbus

Location: 450 Columbus Avenue, New York, NY


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.

Bonnie Slotnick’s Cookbooks

Name: Bonnie Slotnicks Cookbooks

Location: 28 East 2nd Street, New York, NY

Walking along 2nd Avenue, you might notices a small sign that says “cookbooks” hanging just above a long staircase at the bottom of which sits a quiet red door. Upon crossing the threshold, you are greeted with the delightful smell of old books and the pleasing sounds of opera music. If you didn’t know that you were walking into a bookstore, you might think that you had just walked into someone’s 1950’s styled kitchen. Countertops with old kitchen wares sit throughout the room, and cooking utensils hang from the bookcase-lined walls. In the far corner of the store, a kitchen table and some chairs sit piled with books, waiting to be cleared off when company comes for dinner.


What I liked: This store was amazing. Run by Bonnie Slotnick herself, the store feels more like walking into someone’s home than a place of business. She greets every customer and talks to them as though they were her houseguests. The store is also dog friendly and she keeps a small container of treats for her customer’s canine companions. Most of her books are “out-of-print & antiquarian,” which means that her selection of cookbooks is incredibly varied and definitely unique in the best possible way. In browsing the shelves, I even noticed books in Japanese and French. She also has a small selection of rare cookbooks from the 1800s, and for those who are interested in the style, she has a few facsimiles of cookbooks from the 1800s as well.IMG_6838 Overall it seemed that she has something for everyone who came in. No question went unanswered and she seemed to know a great deal about most of the books in the store.

How they are combatting the pressures of the digital age: As with many of the independently owned bookstores I have visited, Bonnie Slotnicks Cookbooks is engrained in the community. Her sale counter has a list and a map of all of the independent bookstores in the area and Ms. Slotnick whole-heartedly points you in the direction of other local bookstores you might enjoy. Her website is also well designed and laid out in a format reminiscent of an old newspaper. While she doesn’t sell books online, she uses her blog to promote some of the stores newest items, and she encourages customers to call or email her with questions. The store’s Facebook is used to promote special events. Overall, however, it seems that Bonnie Slotnick’s Cookbooks has survived well without making a complete conversion to the digital era.



Quoted material from:

Three Lives & Company

IMG_6809Name: Three Lives & Company

Location: 154 West 10th Street, New York, NY


Description: The quiet, intimate atmosphere of Three Lives & Company leaves the book browser feeling as though they are walking through an old 19th century library. Dim, green-shaded lamps hang over the tops of the large wooden shelves and antique styled desk turned display table sits on a small raised platform near the back of the room. An oriental rug covers the platform, hiding portions of a well-worn wooden floor that is visible throughout the rest of the store. A solid-looking wooden counter fills one wall, the front of which is obscured by several racks of books. Soft jazz music plays in the background, and a solitary whicker chair with a red cushion sits tucked back against one shelf waiting for the occasional reader.


What I like: Aside from the cozy library-esque atmosphere, one of the best aspects of this quaint bookstore was the friendly, knowledgeable staff. The woman behind the counter was talking with customers throughout the duration of my visit and often times she was giving them book advice and other recommendations. Additionally, the store has little alcoves into which book browsers can temporarily disappear. IMG_6812The alcoves also act as natural section dividers, creating a seamless transition from genre to genre. In front of one alcove sits a rotating display table, which at the time of my visit housed books on the theme of “favorite New York reads.”

How they are combatting the pressures of the digital age: Interestingly, it appears that the main way Three Lives & Company is combatting the pressures of the digital age is by only embracing the digital age as much as absolutely necessary. They do have a simple website available that lists their hours, address, contact information, and schedule of readings. The website also lists a simple “about us” statement that places the store in the context of the community and discuses how the two “have grown up and evolved together.” They don’t sell any books online and instead have made the statement that:

“A knowledgeable staff that reads prodigiously has been a key to our success, as has a theatrical and artistic display of the books we carry. Special orders remain a significant area of service, and we are meticulous about our follow through. We thrive on discovering literary books that might otherwise be overlooked, and thrill to give them to our customers.”


Quoted material from:

On the Use of Book Trailers

A couple years ago, I was introduced to the idea of a book trailer – a short video used to advertise a new book much in the same way a movie trailer advertises an upcoming film. Ideally, a book trailer will generate the appropriate awareness and hype and encourage consumers to make the purchase. I recently stumbled across an article weighing the pros and cons of making such a trailer. Author Marisol Dahl discusses the use of the book trailer as “a natural marketing tactic” in the digital age. However, she states that a book trailer might not be the correct choice for everyone.

On the one hand Dahl says that book trailers are great because they are visually engaging, easily sharable, and more likely to pay-off in the long-run, as they will “live as long as [they are] online,” and “over time, [they] can continue to introduce new potential readers to [the] work.” On the other hand, however, she says that their quality is often compared to that of movie trailers and so “a good book trailer involves a huge investment of time, money, and skill.” Dahl also makes the argument that some people are still wary of book trailers because it is akin to “seeing the movie before reading the book” and destroys the possibility for the reader to form their own conceptions of the fictional world. Finally, Dahl suggests that determining the return on investment of a book trailer is difficult, as it may not reach its target audience even if it gains a significant number of views.

Perhaps the element that struck me most about this article is the fact that the literary world is still largely skeptical of the digital age for use in promoting their largely un-digital products (e-books being the exception). That using a book trailer to promote a book somehow feels like cheating or that it destroys the experience of reading by eliminating the possibility for the reader’s own imagination feels counter-intuitive to the over-arching feeling of limitless creativity that has generally accompanied the digital age. Below is one example of a book trailer that seems to walk the line between both worlds:

In this trailer, the visual references to physical books fuse together the world of digital animation as a means of promotion and the world of print to which the trailer is connecting. Additionally, the paper animation, while visually engaging, does not detract from the reader’s ability to imagine the world of the novel because of its simplicity.

In thinking about how the use of video could connect back to independent bookstores, the idea of creating a “bookstore trailer” seemed appealing. Instead of being used to promote specific books, these short videos could be used to showcase what the bookstore is all about including capturing the atmosphere, the events, and the people who visit. Some bookstores such as the Powerhouse Arena and WORD have already made use of this technique. Thoughts?


For Marisol Dahl’s full article click here.

Quoted Material from:

Video Source:


Name: WORD

Location: 126 Franklyn Street, Brooklyn, NY



Description: This cute, two-room bookstore has the feel of a small book boutique. The walls are painted in soft blues and yellows, with the exception of one, which maintains its original brick-face. Red and white hand-painted signs with cursive lettering indicate the main shelf sections, and book recommendations can be found scattered throughout the racks. Soft classic rock music plays from a singular speaker tucked back on a shelf filled with indie-style board games. A collection of tote bags and WORD merchandise hangs off a cloths line in the back corner near the staircase that leads down to their event room.IMG_6795

What I like: This small store makes good use of the space it has available, and they seem to go out of their way to make the book browsing experience pleasant and communal. A small shelf near the front desk lists recommended reads and showcases the books currently being read by their book clubs. One shelf has a sign above it listing the top ten books of the month while another displays books from their upcoming events. Another fun feature of this bookstore is the sheer number of coloring books and special markers that they sell as well as the variety in different notebooks and stationary cards. These elements contribute to the boutique-esque vibe of the store because even though they are related to writing and creativity, they widen the range of cute items for customers to choose from.

How they are combating the pressures of the digital age: This store has strong communities ties. In addition to being part of IndieBound, WORD prides itself on being “whatever communities need [them] to be.” While their original location is in Brooklyn, they recently opened a second location in Jersey City, and they tailor their store’s products and features to what the surrounding community needs and wants.IMG_6793 They state that, “In Brooklyn that means carrying a lot of paperback fiction (especially classics), cookbooks, board books, and absurdly cute cards and stationery.” However they also consider themselves “friends” for every type of event ranging from “the classic author reading and Q&A to potlucks and a basketball league,” which they host in the park across the street. This month (July) they are also taking part in a community “Where’s Waldo” scavenger hunt, which encourages store visitors to shop locally.IMG_6796 Interestingly, the WORD website does not appear to have an online store and online book browsing is limited to a small selection of recommended e-books. WORD has partnered with Kobo, an e-book publishing company, to make e-book available to their customers. Their website offers a brief statement on their view of digital books. They say, “You’ve all probably read at least one article about how print books are dying and how in 30 seconds or 30 years, we’ll all be reading via microchips embedded in our brains. It may not surprise you to hear that we don’t actually believe that! But we do think that reading digitally has its perks, and if you think so too, then we are still your source for advice and recommendations.”


Quoted information from

Bank Street Book Store

IMG_6378Name: Bank Street Book Store

Location: 2780 Broadway, New York, NY


Description: Upon walking into Bank Street Book Store, you are greeted by the happy sounds of children laughing and talking. The store design is vibrant and engaging. Picture books and books for young readers line the shelves and colorful classroom items are placed on display. A variety of educational games are also placed around the store for sale, and stuffed animals sit tucked onto corner bookshelves. Chalkboard signs with hand-drawn pictures and foamy letters divide each shelf section and create a playful environment that mirrors the store’s educational motivations.


In visiting Bank Street Book Store, I was fortunate enough to arrange a brief email interview with some of the staff members of the bookstore and with some members of Bank Street College – the organization responsible for running Bank Street Book Store. Thank you to everyone who contributed!

MW: What is Bank Street Book Store’s connection to Bank Street College and how as it grown as a community resource?

 BSB: Now in its 46th year, Bank Street Book Store is committed to being a leading source of high quality children’s literature for families and educators in New York City. Owned by Bank Street College of Education, the Book Store began as a small store serving the needs of the College, and has since grown into a beloved resource for customers across the country in search of the “just-right” book for any situation. We have a friendly, knowledgeable staff who love children and books, and they apply their experience with both each time they read, review, and recommend a title.

Lucy Sprague Mitchell founded Bank Street College as the Bureau of Educational Experiments to study children and determine the best environments suited for their learning and growth. Her revolutionary Here and Now Story Book (1921) was based on her observations of children’s language and inspired a more real-world approach to children’s literature in the 1920s. A champion of progressive education—the cornerstone of Bank Street College’s mission—Mitchell wanted young children to have books that related directly to their own life experiences. This title was the first step in her efforts to set new standards for the genre of children’s literature.

Later in 1937, Mitchell established the Bank Street Writers Lab to give her students and up and coming writers and illustrators a space to grow their talent and generate more Here and Now material. Early members of the Lab included legendary authors such as Margaret Wise Brown (“Goodnight Moon”), Maurice Sendak (“Where The Wild Things Are”), and others. Still in place today, the Writers Lab is housed under the Bank Street Center for Children’s Literature, a longstanding division of the Bank Street Library that advocates for the highest quality children’s literature, from infancy through adolescence. The Center has many components, including the annual Irma S. Black Award, which recognizes an outstanding book for young children in which the text and illustrations work together to produce a singular whole.

IMG_6388We stock many of these award-winning titles at the Book Store, which opened on 112th Street in 1970 in step with Lucy Sprague Mitchell’s commitment to children’s literature. Today, our home at 107th St. and Broadway features a special array of diverse, child-centered literature that we place in the hands of millions of children, parents, and educators every day.

The children’s literature legacy of Bank Street can be further explored by viewing the current exhibition “The Picture Book Re-Imagined: The Children’s Book Legacy of Pratt Institute and the Bank Street College of Education.”

MW: How has the digital era affected the success of the bookstore? Are there any special ways you are able to make use of the changing technology?

BSB: Bank Street Book Store is a community bookstore that gets a lot of foot traffic from local families and educators. In addition, customers all over the world browse and order from the bookstore’s collection on our website. Schools make use of our website’s fundraising wishlist function, which allows families to buy books for donation to children’s classrooms. Parents make birthday wishlists for their children online, too. Our bookstore’s internal operations are fully computerized and we realize major efficiencies as a result.

IMG_6380MW: Have you seen any affects of the digital era in the way children interact with the books themselves?

BSB: We sell e-books on our website, however, parents and children tell us (and industry statistics confirm) that they prefer printed books for children. Most digital platforms are distracting for young readers, who can quickly click away from the e-book they are reading to play games instead. The American Association of Pediatrics has gone so far as to recommend zero screen-time for children under the age of two. We are proud to be part of the movement to keep children engaged with printed, tangible books.


Several of the bookstores I have visited so far, have had references to or advertisements for a website called IndieBound. Having never heard of this site before, I was curious as to how it connected with independent bookstores, and decided to do a bit of research. is an online network of independent bookstores across the country that was created by the American Booksellers Association. The purpose of the website is to demonstrate the importance of shopping locally and to provide a place where booklovers can search for independent bookstores in their communities. Although the website only shows the bookstores that are members of the American Booksellers Association, it does provide an extensive list that gives searching readers plenty of options to choose from.

The site also offers a couple other neat features including two lists – the Indie Next List and the Indie Bestsellers list – and a diagram demonstrating “how the growth of Amazon impacts you and your community.” The Indie Next list is published monthly and shows a selection of bookseller recommendations based on favorite books that have been sold in their stores. The Indie Bestseller List is published on a weekly basis and shows what is currently selling well in indie bookstores across the country.

Additionally, IndieBound allows readers to purchase books from the site in a couple of different ways that support the independent bookstore community. Book browsers have the option to search for a title and either purchase directly from the page in which case, “the sale will support the entire network of independent bookstores,” or shoppers have the option to enter a zip code, which allows readers to purchase the book from a local store. The website also provides a list of bookstores that have partnered with the e-reader company Kobo. Each name in the list is linked back to the stores home page where shoppers can sign up for a Kobo account and purchase Kobo e-books through the local bookstore.

Overall, this site is a great resource for both the bookstores and the readers as it creates a national online community. It connects readers to local stores that may have been previously undiscovered, and makes online shopping quick, simple, and supportive of local economies. I would definitely recommend perusing the site and their book lists. Happy shopping!




Quoted Information from

Gif Source:

The Powerhouse Arena

IMG_6741Name: The Powerhouse Arena

Location: Currently closed, but will be reopening at a new location in Brooklyn not far from the old store.


Description: Unfortunately, I arrived at The Powerhouse Arena two days before they closed so it was hard to capture an accurate representation of what the store is like. I thought instead I would share one of their videos, which shows off the space and some of the many awesome book readings, lectures, and other events they have held over the years.

How they are combating the pressures of the digital age: In addition to their many events, The Powerhouse Arena hosts several art exhibitions each year. They also acts as a home for the publisher powerHouse Books. As a publisher, their books focus on the arts and include topics ranging from fine arts to fashion. They say of their work, “We have blazed a trail through the staid book publishing industry, releasing books that have sparked cultural trends and redefined commonly held perceptions of the purpose and role of art books in contemporary culture.” IMG_6746The Powerhouse Arena also plays an important role in the annual New York Photo Festival, which aims “to present in a dynamic and polished manner the best new work being producing in the photography and art world.” Finally, The Powerhouse Arena has an extensive online store that is still up and running despite the current absence of a physical location. They offer a large selection of items ranging from limited edition Powerhouse Arena tote bags to artwork and stationary. Their store menu bar even has an option for “gift registry” from which you can add items to any online registry.


Quoted material from:

Video from Powerhouse Arena’s Vimeo account searchable from their main website.

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.

Page 1 of 3

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén