New York City is lucky enough to boast many independent bookstores, but don’t take them for granted. Instead, take your spare change and loose bills and head over to any or all of the bookstores listed below, and see what treasures you can find for less than the price of a cup of coffee. By Jessica Allen.
Founded by four folks who used to sell books on the streets, Book Thug Nation is a used bookstore and community space in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. In addition to having a great name, Book Thug Nation has a great selection of books, especially considering that it’s roughly the size of a suburban living room. While the store boasts strong fiction, philosophy, poetry, and history sections, we particularly like the collection of pulps.
Housing Works Bookstore Cafe, a Soho institution, is a great place to browse, to nosh, to write, or to listen to great writers talk about their craft. Indeed, the literary programming here is outstanding, and ranges from book clubs to workshops to open mikes to mixers and game nights. Best of all, 100 percent of the proceeds go to Housing Works, a local nonprofit that helps those living with AIDS as well as those suffering from homelessness.
If there’s a better used bookstore out there, and by “out there” we mean “the world,” we have yet to find it. Back when the Strand opened in 1927, nearby Fourth Avenue had several bookstores; today the Strand is the last one standing. Its tagline, 18 miles of books, is absolutely true, as you’ll find when browsing three floors of old and new tomes, on a dazzling array of topics and themes. If it’s been published between two covers, you can likely find it here.
Despite its name, Unnameable Books sells new and used books, all of which have names, from a smallish store in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn. Carts outside of the store sell overstock and oversized books for about $1. Inside, you’ll find a great selection of poetry, philosophy, and fiction, among other genres. Bonus: this bookstore is catty-corner from Ample Hills, one of the city’s best ice cream emporiums and itself named for a Walt Whitman poem.
Talk about a labor of love: this bookstore in Upper Manhattan is run entirely by volunteers. It began in 2011, when a local resident teamed with various organizations to open a bookstore for a month in an empty storefront in Washington Heights. The location has changed, but the community-mindedness remains. Word Up has a great selection of new and used titles in English and Spanish. Rotating art exhibitions too.