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In Celebration of Independent Bookstore Day

Purveyors of knowledge, solace, companionship, humor, community, and much more, bookstores enrich our lives and our neighborhoods in countless ways. It’s only fitting, then, that we have found numerous ways to promote them as part of our efforts to support local independent small businesses. On the occasion of independent bookstore day, we highlight a few of the booksellers that we have featured as part of our programs in the hopes that you’ll patronize these and others, and make the celebration last all year long.

Our Business of the Month program profiles “mom and pop” businesses nominated by the public for their contributions to the local community. Last year, we named our 100th Business of the Month and, looking back, were struck by the incredible diversity of past honorees. But given the high regard in which the public holds bookstores, it should come as no surprise that a good number of them made it onto the list. You can hear directly from several of their owners in the video we made to celebrate having crossed the 100 business threshold (you can check out the short and long versions of the video here and here).

Three Lives & Company (154 West 10th St, at Waverly Place), a general interest bookstore, has made it its mission to serve as the community’s living room since 1983. Its welcoming staff takes special pleasure in discovering a customer’s next favorite book and takes care to curate a selection that reflects the tastes and aspirations of area residents. 

Left Bank Books (41 Perry Street between West 4th Street and Waverly Place), which has been in operation since 1992, boasts a remarkable and eclectic collection of used books in a wide range of genres, including fiction, photography, dance, film, art, music, design, fashion, architecture, and theater, among others. Their beautifully appointed store resembles a museum, albeit one where you can purchase exhibit items for as little as $15.

Mercer Books & Records (206 at Mercer Street) has been in our neighborhood since 1990, selling used books and records from a vast space where you can easily get lost. And if you do and no one comes to your rescue, you’ll have to read your way out. Not that you’ll mind. Owner Wayne Conti has assembled at his store an incredible selection of unusual books of all genres, occasionally with the help of donations from his distinguished clientele. Patti Smith once donated several boxes of books from her personal collection, some of them autographed. Conti has also been a staunch opponent of NYU’s aggressive expansionism, which he faults for eroding the area’s unique character. For his activism and for the store’s commitment to serving as an oasis for our brain, Mercer Books & Record received a 2021 Village Award.

Speaking of Village Awards, Dashwood Books (33 Bond Street between Bowery and Lafayette Street) won one in 2023. This specialized bookstore has been an indispensable center for the photographic arts for nineteen years. A popular draw for artists, collectors, art directors, and all manner of photography enthusiasts, the store has also served as an invaluable resource for the fashion, theater, advertising, and film industries. In this way, it has helped preserve NoHo’s role as a hub of culture and creativity. For this, it also earned Business of the Month honors.

Independent bookstores are a precious but increasingly rare breed. There were over 380 of them in the city during the 1950s. Today, there are fewer than 80. To get a fuller picture of their predicament and of the strategies they use to survive, we held a panel featuring three independent booksellers, Book Club Bar, Printer Matter, and Unoppressive Non-Imperialist Bargain Bookstore. You can check out the discussion here. The business owners all described the many challenges they face and gave us a view of how these might be overcome. Printed Matter (38 St. Marks Place at 2nd Avenue) focuses on artists’ books — books conceived as art objects — a niche specialty that draws little attention from the Amazons of the world. Book Club Bar (197 East 3rd Street, between Avenues A and B) has created a hybrid space that is part-bookstore, part-bar, and part-living room, and it hosts an array of literary adjacent community-building events. And Unoppressive Non-Imperialist Bargain Bookstore, which was both a Business of the Month and a 2014 Village Award Winner, survived by selling at bargain prices an ever-evolving selection of the types of books that Villagers (or Villagers at heart) would want to read. Owner Jim Dougas became the subject of a great documentary, 34 Carmine St. thanks to his efforts.

The story of Unoppressive Non-Imperialist Bargain Bookstore epitomizes that of many beloved bookstores. On the one hand, it has received numerous accolades, which are a testament to its popularity, longevity, and success. On the other hand, it ultimately succumbed to real estate pressures, against which Dougas’ passion and resourcefulness proved no match. The store closed in 2022 and is still looking for a new home. And yet, there is room for hope. Even in a retail environment as inhospitable to independent small businesses as the current one, landlords and store owners can occasionally still surprise you. The recently displaced Village Works, a great downtown-culture-focused bookstore that launched in 2021, found a new space at 12 St. Marks Place (between 1st and 2nd Avenue) the original location of the sadly departed St Mark’s Bookshop, our February 2012 Business of the month. Village Work became our March 2024 Business of the Month

We invite you to swing by your local independent bookstore and buy a book or two today.

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