Wednesday, June 3, 2009

BEA Highlights #2: NYC Independent Bookstores

I had hoped to write about meeting the BEA authors today, but since my box of books is not scheduled to arrive until tomorrow or even Friday (and there is one book in particular that I MUST show you), I have chosen to postpone that entry for at least one more day.

I tried to do some preliminary research for indie bookstores in NYC before we left. While there are countless bookstores, some quite specialized, I knew I needed to be very selective in choosing the ones I visited during our very short stay. Fortunately the 3 bookstores at the top of my list were all located in the Village area - which was definitely a stop on our whirlwind tour. We used to live in the Village - on Bleecker between Sullivan and Thompson to be exact - and both my husband and I were very anxious to return to our old haunting grounds. We lived there from 1984 - 1988 and were absolutely amazed how much has changed in the past two decades, while at the same time, how much has remained the same.

Partners in Crime was the first store I visited and I could have stayed there for hours. As the name suggests, the store specializes in mysteries/thrillers and is stacked floor to ceiling with new releases, out-of-print, and used books. Their website describes the store as:
What We Do
We are an ind
ependent bookstore devoted entirely to mysteries, and the largest mystery bookstore in Manhattan. We feature a complete selection of new titles as well as a broad array of our recommendations, classics, and out-of-print books.

We are known for our ability to match people with books they'll enjoy; so if you are an experienced mystery reader or just starting out and love mysteries, Partners & Crime is the bookseller for you. Over 85% of our sales are to repeat and referral customers.
I spent about half an hour just perusing the titles on all the shelves (the store is well organized and it is very easy to browse at your leisure, although the staff would have been more than happy to help me). While I drooled over the selection, my husband immediately made friends with the owner. The shop was established 15 years ago - that is 5 years after we left the Village - and has been host to countless author signing sessions. There are two bookshelves filled with autographed editions. In the back of the store there is a table set up for upcoming autograph sessions - the next one happened to be Friday night when Michael Connelly and George Pelecanos were going to autograph their newest books. How I had wanted to return for that event - but alas, there was simply not enough time. I managed to limit my purchase to just one book: an autographed copy of Cara Black's first book in the Aimee Leduc investigation series, Murder in the Marais.

The next book stop was only a few blocks away. I had heard such praises for Three Lives and Company and knew that it was a "must-see" The write-up on the website is accurately descriptive:
THREE LIVES is an anachronism.
  • It is the shop around the corner.
  • A touchstone in a neighborhood.
  • A place with a human face and a cast of characters.
  • 84 Charing Cross Road colored by the time and place.
  • A haven for people who read.
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.

One of the greatest bookstores on the face of the Earth. Every single person who works there is incredibly knowledgeable and well read and full of soul. You can walk in and ask anybody, really, what they've read lately and they'll tell you something - very likely something you've never heard of. [But] it's always going to be something interesting and fabulous. I go there when I'm feeling depressed and discouraged, and I always feel rejuvenated.

- Michael Cunningham,
winner of the 1999
Pulitzer Prize for Fiction

That is a lot of praise to live up to -- but I must confess that I found the store to be quite charming and while the space is small, it maintains a vast selection of books in many genres. I was only able to stay and browse about half an hour, but in that timeframe no fewer than 10 other people came to visit the store as well. It is not on the main drag, so to speak. It is definitely a destination location and there are many who are determined to find it. Again, I used great restraint when making a purchase (but I HAD to make a purchase, right?) so I chose a small book entitled, Poems of New York. I thought this would be a book that I would be hard-pressed to find in Kansas - it would make a great souvenir for my first BEA - and I might be able to use it for inspiration in the writing class I am taking this summer.

Any booklover's trip to NYC would not be complete without a visit to the iconic Strand Bookstore. I forced myself to wait until after BEA to visit this museum of a bookstore, as I knew I would be too tempted to buy far too many books otherwise. It is a good thing I waited. I shipped home many more books than I had anticipated, so I limited myself to only the purchase of a bookbag at the Strand. I must admit that the store is just as overwhelming now as when I lived here 20 years ago. They advertise 18 miles of books, and I am sure that is no exaggeration. I truly think I could spend half a day in this store and still not see all that there is to see. Sometimes large stores can be cumbersome to navigate, but the Strand is very well organized, with appropriate signage. I focused my attention on the outdoor carts of $1 books (there must have been at least 10-15 carts to choose from) and the basement, where reviewer copies are sold at half the retail price. Boy, if I lived in the city - I would spend my rent money on books at this store. Everything is a bargain - and book bargains are the best!

Just one short block from the Strand is the Forbidden Planet bookstore - which specializes in fantasy, sci-fi, horror, and graphic novels. While this is not my typical reading genre, it was fun to visit and browse all the titles, games, and paraphernalia. If this is of interest to you, then I would definitely plan to visit this shop the next time you are in NYC. It is definitely a unique treat.

The one bookstore that I had wanted to visit, but simply did not have time, was Kitchen Arts and Letters on the upper East side. This store opened when I was still living in the city, and it is still located in the same spot. Their website's description is as follows:

Kitchen Arts Letters is the country's largest store devoted completely to books on food and wine. With more than 11,000 cooking titles in English and foreign languages and access to thousands of out
-of-print titles.

We help food professionals, scholars, and the food publishing community, as well as the general public, to discover books older and recent that represent serious contributions to the world of food and wine.

I was curious to see what changes had been made over the past 20 years and if they had expanded the space. As I (not quite so vividly) recall, the store was small but jam-packed with any and every food-related book I could ever hope to read. I oftentimes would spend 2+ hours browsing - and salivating - over all the book titles. I would envision creating 5 course meals for friends, or vacationing in the Bordeaux region of France. While it was very disappointing not to visit this shop this trip - I know that I will be back in the city for another BEA and will make it a point to visit at that time. My youngest daughter (junior in high school) is hoping to accompany on my next BEA trip, and she has aspirations of becoming a pastry chef. She and I will have a grand time visiting this lovely shop at that time.


  1. I think it's wonderful that you got to visit these independent stores. I haven't been to NYC in a long time but it's nice to have some places to check out when I do get to visit.

  2. Most likely I will never get to visit NYC but you sure did a great job with describing those bookstores. You had more will power than I would have. LOL I would have dumped my clothes out of my suitcase to carry them all home.

  3. Great post. I didn't make it to a single bookstore while I was in New York. I did, however, buy a book at the airport on our way out.

  4. You're so lucky! There are no indie bookstores near me, sadly. I have to go to online indie bookstore sites if I want to purchase indie. I am glad you got to visit these bookstores. What a treat!

  5. This is such a lovely round-up. I will be in NYC in August for a cousin's wedding, and now I know how I'll spend some of my time (if I can get time off from family!).

  6. I need to get back just to wander around the bookish places! Great post.

  7. I heart the Strand. I went to NYC the past two Augusts with my husband on business. Last time my husband put a moratorium on my book-buying when I came back to the hotel with ten books and a t-shirt (only spent $80! So, sixty on the books, twenty on the shirt!).

    The moratorium has been given up now that I have my own blog. I have an excuse. "Oh, but I had to pick up this book. All of the other blogs are talking about it." or "Oh, but I need this one for my challenge".

    I really like to get classics at the Strand because they run about 4 or 5 bucks and even though everything is used, they're in great condition--you'd never know. Maybe they get some unsold copies from other stores, I don't know.

    O.K., enough gushing!

  8. I wonder if I can talk my husband into making a trip to NYC to tour all the bookstores . . .

  9. Wonderful examples of bookstores in the city that each have their own captivating charm and personality.


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