With International Buy-a-Book Day on September 7, and International Literacy Day on September 8, it was high time we re-visited our recommendations for best bookstores in New York City. What’s exciting about book hunting in a city like New York is that specialized bookstores are still thriving, even though the heyday of Book Row on 4th Avenue may be long gone.
Here are 36 bookstores that will take you from the kitchen to a revolution, and in a few cases, to their brand new spaces, opening this fall. Each one of them is deeply immersed in its community, changing trends, and continuing the city’s long tradition of literacy and learning.
36. Books Are Magic
Author Emma Straub and her husband, Michael Fusco, have filled the Brooklyn bookshop void left by the closing of two independent bookshops in the area, with the May 1st opening of Books Are Magic in Carroll Gardens. Straub, who admittedly spent lots of time at Book Court, was also a former employee of the shop. So it is quite fitting that her new shop is just a few blocks away, incorporating many of the old wooden shelves from Book Courts interior. Books Are Magic is family friendly, with an enormous children’s book section. It is located at 225 Smith Street, corner of Butler Street.
35. Bank Street Book Store
The Bank Street Bookstore began life in the lobby of Bank Street College in 1970, but quickly grew to become a neighborhood bookshop, with a sizable children’s book section. In addition, they also sell schoolbooks, hold daily story hours and puppet shows, and literary talks. You will find them at their new location, 2780 Broadway, at 107th Street.
BookCulture has been owned and operated by Chris Doeblin since 2007, in a Columbia University-owned space on 112th Street, after a previous life as Labyrinth Books which he co-owned since 1997. In 2009, BookCulture opened a second sop on Broadway at 114th Street, and in 2010, Annie Hedrick, who had worked at BookCulture since 2006, joined Chris as a co-owner of the two stores. Now they have a third shop, BookCulture on Columbus, located at 450 Columbus Avenue at 82nd Street. In addition to a wide variety of current best-sellers, you can also find course books, buybacks and a large selection of t-shirts and bags.
33. BOOKS Kinokuniya
Kinokuniya opened its doors in Tokyo in 1927, and have grown to be the largest chain bookstore in Japan today. The shop first opened in New York in 1981 in Rockefeller Center, serving the local Japanese community. They made the move to Avenue of the Americas, and a larger space, in 2007, expanding to three floors. The basement is geared toward Japanese speakers, with books, magazines, DVDs and stationery from Japan;, a second floor with manga titles in English and Japanese, comic books, t-shirts, collectible figures and Cafe Zaiya, selling bento boxes and Japanese pastries; and a first floor filled with books for English speakers that includes an extensive selection of graphic novels, art and design books, cookbooks, travel books, and children’s books. Enjoy Jazz music throughout.
Books Kinokuniya is located in ten cities across the United States, with one shop in New York City, located at 1073 Avenue of the Americas near 42nd Street, and across the street from Bryant Park.
32. Westsider Rare and Used Books
Dorian Thornley and Bryan Gonzalez bought the bookshop known as Gryphon Books in 2002, and renamed it Westsider Rare and Used Books to reflect their patrons and interests. The shop is filled with books on every topic, including performing arts books and scores, as well as books on historic New York City. A few years ago, we purchased a pristine copy of Stephen Birmingham’s Life at the Dakota. In addition to the book shop, Thornley and Gonzalez own Westside Records, just a few blocks south of West 72nd Street. Westsider Rare and Used Books is located at 2246 Broadway at 79th Street.
31. Strand Books
One of New York City’s most famous bookshops, the Strand Bookstore is home to 18 miles of books on multiple levels and even outdoors. The Strand was originally opened by Ben Bass in 1927 on Fourth Avenue’s “Book Row,” which covered six city blocks, and was the home to forty-eight bookstores at one time. Ben’s son, Fred, moved the store to its current location on Broadway and 12th Street in 1957. Today, Fred and his daughter Nancy run the store, and carry more than 2.5 million new, used and rare books in addition to a variety of literary gifts. The shop also has a rich events calendar. Strand Bookstore is located at 828 Broadway at 12th Street.
30. Here’s a Bookstore
Yes, the name of this shop really is “Here’s A Book Store.” Recently we mentioned to a friend that we were having trouble finding books by a certain author. He suggested “Here’s A Book Store,” who happened to have six used books by that author. So we are adding them to our list. Founded in 1975 by Sylvia Levy, and now run along with her son, Doron, this Coney Island shop consists of about 80% used books. No toys. No note cards or tote bags. Just books. They were named The Best Independent Bookstore in New York City by the Sunday Daily News. “Here’s A Book Store” is located at 1964 Coney Island Avenue, Sheepshead Bay.
29. Boulevard Books & Cafe
Owner, Tatiana Nicoli is a neighborhood native, with a good sense of the literary needs in her community. She opened Boulevard Books and Cafe in 2010 as a family friendly gathering place, with an inviting backyard garden. The shop hosts a variety of events including story times, and monthly open mic poetry nights. Boulevard Books and Cafe is located at 7518 13th Avenue in Dyker Heights.
28. Alabaster Bookshop
27. The Corner Bookstore
26. Argosy Bookstore
25. Shakespeare & Co.
24. Greenlight Bookstore
Greenlight Bookstore has a delightful story, beginning as a presentation, and ultimate winner of a Brooklyn Business Library Competition in 2007. Rebecca Fitting and Jessica Stockton Bagnulo opened the doors to Greenlight Bookstore at 686 Fulton Street in Fort Greene in October 2009, with overwhelming support from the community. The shop has also partnered with the Brooklyn Academy of Music, with kiosks in the lobby of the BAM Howard Gilman Opera House and BAM Harvey Theater, offering books and BAM related merchandise. This year they opened a second shop at 632 Flatbush Avenue in Prospect Lefferts Gardens.
23. WORD Bookstore
22. Freebird Books & Goods
Located in Red Hook, along the Brooklyn waterfront, Freebird Books first opened its doors in 2004, specializing in New York history and culture. The shop was sold to Peter Miller, a local resident, in 2007, and is known for being the only bookshop running a post-apocalyptic themed book club, complete with a post-apocalyptic costume contest and other related events.
While the shop’s hours have been cut considerably, opening its doors primarily on weekends only, it continues to be an active apart of the community, sponsoring events, readings, workshops and is the temporary home to “Books Through Bars,” a non-profit which helps prisoners nationwide get access to the printed word. They are located at 123 Columbia Street in Brooklyn.
21. Printed Matter
On October 15, Printed Matter, opened its doors to its new location on 231 Eleventh Avenue at 26th Street. Founded in 1976, the non-profit first opened their doors on Lispenard Street in Tribeca. Known for their open submission process, Printed Matter allows artists and indie publishers to submit books for sale in their shop. The bookstore circulates over 32,000 publications annually on behalf of the artists and small presses, and in addition, offer support services and activities including art installations, talks, book launches and performances.
20. MAST Books
Opened in 2010, MAST Books occupies a small, but well-organized, space in the East Village. The owners’ love of the arts has led them to specialize in used and rare 20th and 21st Century books related to art, photography, design, fashion, cinema and even poetry. Despite the constant stream of customers, the books are neatly displayed and all in very good, if not excellent, condition. Located at 66 Avenue A between 4th and 5th Street, Noon to 10 pm.
19. Spoonbill & Sugartown Booksellers
Located at 218 Bedford Avenue, Brooklyn, Spoonbill & Sugartown Booksellers opened their doors in 1999 with a wide selection of contemporary art and architecture books and – a little bit of everything else including their cat, curled up in various places throughout the shop. So much a part of Williamsburg, the shop was featured in the HBO’s second season premier of Girls. They continue an emphasis on imported and hard-to-find books, with a cool corner of vintage educational materials.
17. The Mysterious Bookshop
Tribeca’s mystery-only bookstore, The Mysterious Bookshop
If you’re interested in crime and suspense, you’ll be in good hands at The Mysterious Bookshop. The shop opened in 1973, specializing in signed first editions, limited editions and rare crime novels. Otto Penzler, the owner, is an editor of mystery fiction in his own right, having won two Edgar Awards, the Ellery Queen Award, and The Raven, which is the highest non-writing award from The Mystery Writers of America. They offer lots of events, including six bookclubs. Located at 58 Warren Street in Tribeca.
16. The Drama Book Shop
Founded in 1917 by the Drama League, the Drama Book Shop became an independent store in 1923. Although forced to relocate a number of times, thee bookstore has, since 2001, been located in a former fabric shop on West 40th Street in 5,000 square feet. Owned by the same family since 1958, the Drama Book Shop is known to be the primary resource for those in the theatre and have a huge selection of plays, scripts and other theatrical works, with a 60-seat black box theater in the basement. Located at 250 West 40th Street between 7th and 8th Avenues.
14. Berl’s Brooklyn Poetry Shop
Opened in 2013, Berl’s Brooklyn Poetry Shop opened just in time for the Brooklyn Book Festival. They began as vendors in 2011 at the Brooklyn Flea, where they sold limited edition chapbooks, and were part of the New York Poetry Festival on Governor’s Island. Now in Dumbo, in a space with a metal floor and vaulted red stoop, the owners, Farrah Field and Jared White can say they are the only bookstore in New York City specific to poetry. Located at 126A Front Street in Brooklyn.
Bluestockings is an all-volunteer bookshop and cafe with titles devoted to feminism and social activism. In their mission statement, they say that they are a radical bookstore, fair trade cafe and activist center, and hope to create empowerment and actively support movements that challenge the system “of oppression.” In addition, they offer educational programming, support groups and events like the Feminist Bookclub, Radical Educators Bookclub, Dyke Knitting Circle and many more. You will be able to visit them at 172 Allen Street for at least five more years, as they just signed a new lease.
12. Revolution Books
Revolution Books has left Chelsea and has moved to Harlem, where it is located at 437 Lenox Avenue. With an Indiegogo Campaign to save Revolution Books, the non-profit bookstore hopes to continue bringing people together who yearn for a better future by way of change.
With a philosophy based in a new synthesis of communism, they hope to continue to create a place where controversial ideas on science, culture and political morality are not only on their bookshelves, but also in discussions, readings, forums and screenings.
11. Kitchen Arts & Letters
Specializing in wine and culinary themes, Kitchen Arts & Letters first opened in 1983 with customers like Julia Child and James Beard. This is a shop for people who are serious about food and drink. Today, Michelin three-star chefs from around the world frequent the shop in addition to those who just love to cook. They carry a wide range of food history and technical manuals in addition to a plethora of cookbooks. Can’t find a rare or out-of-print book? They will make every effort to track it down for their customers. Located at 1435 Lexington Avenue near 94th Street.
10. Bonnie Slotnick Cookbooks
Now settled into a new and larger space in the East Village, Bonnie Slotnick Cookbooks is chock-filled with rare cookbooks, magazines and antique volumes dating back to the 18th century. Even antique vintage kitchen ware is on display. Remember Sardi’s and Patricia Murphy? You’ll also find a collection of volumes about the old and much-loved Manhattan restaurants. The new space is about three-times the size of her shop on West 10th Street, and includes a small garden in the back. Opening this new chapter, you can find Bonnie Slotnick Cookbooks at 28 East 2nd Street.
9. Forbidden Planet
Forbidden Planet, named after the Sci-Fi classic of the same name, has been a mainstay in the comic book culture of New York City. The store arrived in New York from Scotland by way of England, changing locations several times within the Union Square area. Forbidden Planet has been on Broadway near 13th Street since 2012 selling books, comics, collectibles, poster and action figures. If you can’t get to their store, you can follow the blog, The Daily Planet, where they review and interview novelists and comic creators. Located at 832 Broadway.
8. Idlewild Bookstore
Before JFK airport got its name, the airport was named Idlewild. And so this indie bookshop, that specializes in travel books and language classes, settled upon a name that brought many travelers to our city. Idlewild Books opened its doors in 2008, with the Brooklyn store following in 2012. In 2016, the Manhattan store moved to a new location at Seventh Avenue South and Perry Street. The new street level location has an inviting all-glass entrance into a large front room. In addition, there are two rooms, each with long tables, which will be used for workshops.
Here you will find the latest guidebooks, maps, world literature and intriguing books written in the settings of various countries. The bookcases are all organized by country, and include a wide selection of children’s books in French and Spanish. Language classes are taught at both locations.
7. Albertine French Bookstore
Photo by Jess Nash
Albertine, a French Bookstore and reading room opened last year inside the French Embassy on Fifth Avenue and 79th Street. This project of the Cultural Services of the French Embassy houses more than 14,000 contemporary and classic titles from 30 French-speaking countries. In addition to the reading material, the Albertine hosts debates and discussions, conferences, workshops and the monthly Albertine Bookclub.
It is worth noting that the French books at Albertine comply with French law that states book prices cannot be reduced more than five-percent in an effort to protect French publishers and booksellers. This Stanford White Italian Renaissance mansion, built between 1902 – 1906, has been the home of the Cultural Services of the French embassy since 1952. Located at 972 Fifth Avenue.
6. Mercer Street Books & Records
5. Books of Wonder
Coming from humble beginnings in a West Village space of about 200 square feet in 1980, Books of Wonder now occupies a huge space with an ever bigger reputation. Books of Wonder is the place to go for children’s books, carrying everything from rare and collectible children’s books to the newest titles. The shop hosts weekly story times, bookclubs, birthday parties and author events. It even has an art gallery where you will find vintage and collectible prints and posters. Located at 18 West 18th Street.
4. Molasses Books
Molasses Books opened in Bushwick in 2012 and has truly become a local hub. The shop was founded by Matt Winn as a place to find used, affordable books – and when you’re done, you can trade your books for coffee. Now that Molasses Books has a liquor license, you can even trade for beer or wine. It’s a place to linger, read and chat with your neighbors. The shop offers space for local meetings, holds readings and has a great Happy Hour. With the new bar helping to pay the bills, Winn, who has a background in literacy from the New School, was able to fulfill a life-long dream of opening his own press. The first book to be released, will be his own. Located at 770 Hart Street in Brooklyn.
3. Rizzoli Bookstore
While New Yorker’s mourned the loss of the 31 West 57th Street location, Rizzoli Bookstore was hard at work, piecing together their new shop in the shadow of the Flatiron building, which opened this past July. Rizzoli’s brought along many of the classic fixtures, all preserved, including the cherry wood bookcases and chandeliers. The new shop is a 5,000 square foot space on the ground floor of the historic St. James building. Specializing in fashion, interior design, architecture and the arts, Rizzoli is well on their way toward the completion of the last two rooms of the new store, located at 1133 Broadway. When you go, be sure to take notice of their Fornasetti designed murals.
2. Brazenhead Books
A salon, in the true sense of the word, Brazenhead Books lost its lease this year, before many New Yorkers even knew where they were. Its location was a closely guarded secret in a rent-stabilized apartment that owner Michael Seidenberg occupied since 1977. Opening the shop in 2008, he entertained readers three nights a week or by appointment. His gatherings were a congenial mix of book-lovers, books and booze, with an air of recreating the bookshops of old New York in the 70s, and before. Seidenberg says he will do it again. Secret or not, we look forward to his new location.
1. Dashwood Books
Dashwood Books is the only independent bookstore devoted entirely to photography, particularly now that the Leica Gallery has closed in NYC after 21 years. Dashwood Books was founded in 2005 by David Strettell, formerly the Cultural Director of Magnum Photos. The shop specializes in contemporary photography from the 1960s to present and in rare and other out-of-print books. Located at 33 Bond Street.