You’ve heard it once, you’ve heard it twice – print is dead. Or is it? You’ll be surprised to find that many New Yorkers still pledge their allegiance to bookish traditions. Whether you own a Kindle or not, this is your guide to a few of Manhattan’s most unique bookselling and literary locations. Because let’s face it – kale-eating creatures from Williamsburg don’t shop at Barnes and Noble.
1. McNally Jackson Books
Soho/ Nolita: 52 Prince Street
You know an establishment’s got personality when it’s been wifi-free for more than a decade. McNally Jackson is one of them. Tucked behind the busy streets of Soho, the two-story bookstore also houses a small café, where customers can stay caffeinated while they do their browsing. The store is also home to New York City’s very own Espresso Book Machine, which has been helping independent writers publish small batches of paperbacks since 2011. Fact: After graduating from college with a philosophy degree, Sarah McNally – founder of the bookstore – bought a one-way ticket to Africa and trekked through the continent for nine months.
2. Three Lives & Company Greenwich Village: 154 West 10th Street
Once upon a time, three women decided that Greenwich Village needed its own bookstore. The year was 1978 when Three Lives & Company first opened its doors. Since then, the bookstore has remained a neighborhood favorite. Customers will quickly find that the store feels more like book lover’s living room than anything else. “There are no signs in the store,” says bookseller Evan James. “Customers eventually figure out how to browse around, so I guess that makes us different from every other bookstore in the city.” Fact: The store was named after American writer Gertrude Stein’s first published novel Three Lives.
3. Westsider Rare and Used Books
Upper West Side: 2246 Broadway
It might not be as conveniently located as its downtown competitors, but if you happen to find yourself near Central Park, a trip to Westsider should be mandatory. The store is stacked with second-hand finds, automatically making anyone who passes through its doors feel tiny. (The rolling library ladders actually exist for conventional purposes.) Chances are you won’t be finding the newest bestsellers there, but Westsider is the home to an impressive mystery books collection.
Fact: The location also doubles as a record store.
4. Housing Works Bookstore Cafe
Soho/ Nolita: 126 Crosby Street
Housing Works is your ultimate feel-good hideaway. The bookstore café is run entirely by volunteers, and all the money the store makes goes directly into helping HIV-positive New Yorkers. Although it’s been getting crowded since Gossip Girl made it a landmark, the cafe is worthy of all the hype given its uplifting incentives. The Soho gem is also one of the most versatile spaces in the city, and is constantly booked for wedding receptions, book readings, and indie concerts.
Fact: They’re closed on Fridays.
5. White Horse Tavern
Greenwich Village: 567 Hudson Street
This place doesn’t sell books nor is it a well-kept secret, but if you haven’t heard: White Horse was where all the best writers hung out during the 50’s and 60’s. Legend has it that Dylan Thomas, who had long struggled with alcoholism, downed 18 shots of whiskey at the watering hole before dying the following week. The interior of the bar can feel underwhelming and the food has often been deemed mediocre, but I’d like to think that they’re essential parts of the narrative – a reminder that is that some of our favorite literary heroes were once young, tortured souls who didn’t have much money for good food.
Fact: They keep it old-school with a cash only policy.