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Remember Biography bookshop, across from Magnolia Bakery on the corner of Bleecker and West 11th streets? It was small and inviting, with a discount table outside stacked with books so appealing you couldn’t believe they were remainders.
Although that corner was claimed by Marc Jacobs several years ago, Biography didn’t really go away. It just moved down Bleecker Street and changed its name to bookbook. Same owners, similar stock, same wonderful discount table out front – and even a little more room inside.
Owners Carolyn Epstein and Chuck Mullin have been partners in life and business for 35 years, and got married this past July. They’re both New York City natives with ink in their veins – Mullin’s mother ran a bookstore, and Epstein’s father was a book distributor; the pair met while both working for her father. They make their home on Jane Street, where they’ve resided for over two decades.
Business is fine in this part of the Village, they say. Maybe even better than before: “Over here is more like the old Village,” says Epstein. bookbook is situated among other Village retail institutions like Matt Umanov Guitars, Faicco’s Italian Specialties, and Murray’s Cheese – in fact Murray’s owner Rob Kaufelt helped the bookstore find its new space. This location draws more foodies, tourists and NYU folks than the previous spot, and responding to demand, the store now stocks more cookbooks, poetry, mystery, and kids’ books than before.
The shop was re-named because “Biography” became misleading, say the owners. It opened in 1984 with a focus on biographies, but soon expanded its scope because shoppers wanted more. So, when opening the new shop in 2009, Epstein and Mullin took the opportunity to select a more accurate name. Why “bookbook” in particular? “It just came to Chuck one day,” says Epstein.
The bookstore had to leave its first home because of a rent hike – the owners don’t even know how much it would have been, because the landlord assured them that they couldn’t afford it. He liked them and wanted to place them in Chelsea, but Epstein and Mullin wanted to stay in the neighborhood they knew and loved. They managed to stay in the Village and are paying more than before, but it’s manageable.
Most of the staff moved with the store down Bleecker Street, though it’s hard for Epstein to say how many employees there are, because many are part-time or fill-in workers. Several have published their own books, like Jacob Silverman’s “Terms of Service,” a galley copy of which was on display. Rubber stamps made by Arman Safir, another staffer, are for sale by the register – one of the personal touches that make bookbook, in the words of a fan who nominated the store for Business of the Month, “an old-fashioned Mom and Pop business.
“The owners Carolyn Epstein and Chuck Mullin are just terrific. They’re thoughtful in their recommendations, they have a lovely staff who are polite and knowledgeable,” this nominator wrote. “They care about what they do and take pride in the books that they select for the shop. …Instead of giving up and leaving, they persevered and found a new space on Bleecker Street so that they can continue to provide a service to the community and continue a tradition of book stores in Greenwich Village.”
Help us select the next Business of the Month — vote for your favorite small business with this quick and easy form here. It’s a great way to support independent business in the East Village, NoHo and Greenwich Village.