Bookstores, not cupcakes, are dying. In high school, I spent nearly every afternoon with my friends at Borders; reading magazines, studying, browsing books on the third floor, chatting in the café. The corporate bookstore was basically Jane Jacobs’ dream of mixed-use blocks: everything I possibly needed was in a few thousand square feet of books and pastries and scrabble and big windows. And then Borders, along with a majority of neighborhood bookstores without major financial backing, went bankrupt, closed its stores, and left me looking for an adequate replacement.
In the Nora Ephron Movie, You’ve Got Mail, Meg Ryan’s character is put out of business when Fox’s, a mega-bookstore, opens around the corner from her cherished Upper West Side bookshop. Meg Ryan’s sad face as she closes The Shop Around The Corner haunts me each time I step into the Barnes & Noble on East 86th.
But enough about the corporate bad guys.
In New York, it’s hard enough to find 6 inches on a communal table to put set your laptop down and your mug of overpriced coffee on top of that. A good part of my morning routine involves finding a seat with enough room to extent my elbows at one of the 100 coffee shops on my block while we all look for Craigslist writing/music/food gigs to pay for our next morning’s coffee. It’s a good life.
If I have to find a positive side effect to the death of the independent bookstore, it’s the survival of the fittest. Darwinism cooperates well with local business, and some of the still-existing, yet still-struggling bookstores in New York today are truly fantastic.
McNally Jackson plays smooth jazz, as friendly and knowledgeable workers welcome you in to the cozy story. Moreso than a Barnes & Noble, this Soho store has a literary charm; in it’s smaller selection, only literary gems are on the shelves. Choose any book at random and you will probably learn something. McNally also helps self-published authors sell their books and has a book-making service for those ready to put together their work. My favorite spot, and I’m afraid to share this online, is the long table on the lower level, where I can sit windowless, surrounded by books for hours, working and writing and debating whether I want another coffee from the upstairs café.
On a bad day, I stop into Strand Books on the way home, perhaps just to browse or maybe to purchase a quick read off of their "cheaper than Kindle" table. Or, this month, of their table of books curated by Alison Bechdel. Yes.
Bluestockings has so many obscure gender studies and radical theory books, hosting free events most nights of the week. St. Mark's Bookshop is petite enough to feel cozy but neighborhoody enough to keep a strong client base.
I could go on, but you get the point. Independent bookstores offer us so much more than those mega-websites that exist for the sole purpose of profit. Sure, they also have a purpose, and yes, my kindle is kind of equivalent to my 3rd arm, but we can't forget the little shops that characterize our neighborhoods and give us the peaceful refuge that the Internet never could.