Location: 972 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10075
Description: This little bookstore is easy to miss walking down 5th avenue. Located inside the historic Payne Whitney Mansion – currently home to the Cultural Services of the French Embassy – the only indication of the store’s existence is a tiny sign posted out front. Upon entering the building, you are greeted by a beautiful marble lobby, and a curious security guard, who will inquire as to where you are headed and ask you to please step through the metal detector to the left. Once through, you are free to walk to the back of lobby where a small glass door labeled “Albertine” awaits.
The store itself is quiet, except for the low hum of voices. The difference here is that almost everyone is speaking French. French books line the shelves, and two tables loaded with French books and English translations stand in the middle of the room. Off to the right a small staircase leads up to the second floor, which houses graphic novels, travel books, children’s books, books about art, and a striking ceiling mural depicting the planets and zodiac signs moving around the sun.
What I like: As someone who studied French in undergrad, I was so excited to discover this bookstore, and it did not disappoint. While it does cater to a specific audience, the store carries several English translations of French books. This aspect makes the store more accessible for customers who are interested in French literature and culture, but who do not speak French themselves. Albertine also sells French editions of literature from other countries, and I was particularly excited to find a French edition of Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. On the second floor, customers can also find a small glass–fronted case displaying rare French books, several of which are dated to the 18th century and earlier. Another enjoyable element of the store is that the floors are not crowded with tables selling
toys or other unrelated wares. Albertine simply sells books, which in combination with somewhat dim lighting, gives the store a library-esq feel.
How they are combating the pressures of the digital age: Albertine is run as “a project of the Cultural Services of the French Embassy.” Cultural Services provides support for Albertine’s events and literary discussions, and other support for the bookstore is provided through a small group of foundations, corporations, and individuals. Additionally, Albertine’s website contains an online store where customers can browse and purchase books in both French and English. Recently, Albertine also added EBooks to their online store in order to make French Literature more accessible. In the past, the store has even offered some of their events on Livestream so that customers can participate online. Finally, Albertine has a blog, and three different forms of social media pages – Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram – on which they post frequently.