Indie Bookstores of New York City

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

Tag: French


Name: IdlewildIMG_6531

Location: 170 7th Ave South, New York, NY and 249 Warren Street, Brooklyn, NY


Description: Idlewild’s new location in the West Village is unique. The small store on the corner has one long, curved wall lined with books and windows. Several hip-height bookshelves and one larger display table are placed throughout the store. The main room contains travel books for any destination you might want to go, and offers so many different styles of guides that you will have no problems finding exactly what you are looking for. The store also has two small back rooms – each outfitted with long, wooden tables, wooden chairs, blackboards, and an oriental rug. On the blackboards, Spanish and French sentences are neatly written in colorful, chalky cursive. Though they are still moving into to this new location, they remain open and I have no doubt that when the transformation is complete, Idlewild’s already pleasant atmosphere will gain an even greater level of charm.IMG_6525

What I like: Aside from their huge selection of books, one of my favorite aspects of this bookstore is the design. I love the curving wall, as it not only creates plenty of space to browse, but it also provides a unique structure that I haven’t seen in any other bookstore I have visited so far. Even though the interior of the main room is relatively modern, the shape of the curved wall is reminiscent of the wall of a castle tower or a rotunda in an old home, which seems fitting for the travel-centered focus of this store. In contrast, the classrooms in the back have a rustic and old-fashioned feel to them, which provides a cozy learning space that is suitable for all ages. Additionally, though Idlewild is a travel bookstore, and they predominantly sell travel guides and maps, they also sell a selection of other books including fiction and nonfiction books that are either in translation or set in another country, as well as cookbooks from places like India, Scandinavia, and Peru . Their Brooklyn location also sells a small selection of books in other languages. IMG_6526

How they are combating the pressures of the digital age: This bookstore has one of the best websites that I have encountered so far. The home page is colorful, visually stimulating, and the websites design is consistent with some of the promotional materials and colored chalky writing present in the physical store. Idlewild’s website also shows the intention of opening a webshop so that customers can browse remotely, however this feature does not yet seem to be up and running. Upon arriving at the home page, the website generates a newsletter popup, which alerts the visitor to the newsletter’s existence. Even if customers do not sign up for the newsletter right away, the site also provides an option to subscribe in the top left corner of each page. IMG_6522Another unique feature that contributes to Ildewild’s success is the abundance of language classes they offer in French, German, Italian, and Spanish. Classes are taught by native speakers and range in level of difficulty. Idlewild offers skill building for everyone from complete newcomers to those looking to practice their conversation and discussion skills.


Name: Albertine

Location: 972 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10075Screen Shot 2016-06-22 at 11.37.52 PM


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

Works by Molière from 1781

Works by Molière from 1781

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.

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