The 10 best independent bookstores in NYC

While pundits once happily foretold that the e-reader would topple the humble bookstore, in New York City there has been a literature resurgence, proving that books ain’t dead just yet. Even Amazon has heeded to the public’s desire to run our collective fingers over real paperbacks in real stores and opened two brick-and-mortar locations in NYC alone. Outside of the Bezos Empire, however, we’ve mainly got our eye on the smaller, quainter bookstores to visit in NYC, somewhere you can read away an afternoon surrounded by an ambient buzz while warmed by several cups of freshly roasted espresso. Join us as we hunt down the best bookstores in NYC, all independently run, from the Upper East Side to Queens.

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The Mysterious Bookshop

1. Housing Works Bookstore Cafe & Bar, Nolita

A real community outpost hidden in the urban jungle of NYC is the entirely non-profit Housing Works Bookstore Cafe & Bar. Everything in the store is donated, from books to movies and music, with a dedicated staff of volunteers who see that 100% of the store’s profits go towards fighting the HIV/AIDS crisis as well as the city’s homelessness epidemic through advocacy and funding lifesaving services. With its mahogany bookshelves, curving staircases and on-site café, Housing Works is the perfect place to while away an afternoon in good company, before taking advantage of their fully licensed bar come sundown, when various social events transform the space.

Address: 126 Crosby Street, Nolita, New York.

2. Molasses Books, Bushwick

For a day that flows like sugar syrup, Molasses Books in Bushwick is the place. A relative newcomer to a slow-moving residential neighbourhood in Brooklyn, Molasses Books invites customers to explore the storied relationship between literature and alcohol while curling up in comfy climes over an affordable second-hand page-turner. Part rustic Parisian café, part underground hipster bar, Molasses Books serves both coffee and beer with a variety of literary events in the evening, from Tarot readings to poetry slams.

Address: 770 Hart Street, Brooklyn, New York.

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3. Strand Book Store, Union Square

One of the most treasured and long-standing bookstores in Manhattan is the Strand Book Store, lasting through the Depression Era to become the only surviving store on Fourth Avenue’s original ‘Book Row’. Named after the London street frequented by Dickens, Mill and other avant-garde writers, the Strand Book Store has since become a famed haunt in its own right, now home to over 2.5 million used, new and rare books. Flick through the pages of the Strand’s volumes and you might even come across a love letter handwritten by one of the store’s former patrons.

Address: 828 Broadway, East Village, Manhattan, New York.

4. Albertine, Upper East Side

Another beloved bookstore Manhattan has to offer is Albertine on the elegant Upper East Side. Sharing its home with New York University’s Institute of Fine Arts, Albertine is a favoured meeting place among art students and creatives alike. Based on a historical mansion with Central Park on its back doorstep, Albertine is a real wonder, filled to its constellation-painted ceilings with a collection of over 14,000 English and French titles. Although the bookshop itself has only been open since 2014, the mansion has been the base of the Cultural Services of the French Embassy since 1952, continually working to combine French and American culture through literature events for both kids and adults.

Address: 79th and 5th Avenue, Upper East Side, New York.

Books Are Magic

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5. McNally Jackson Independent Booksellers and Café, Nolita

For avid readers who find themselves downtown in the Village, an alternative bookstore Manhattan has in hiding is the McNally Jackson Independent Booksellers and Café. Heralding a new wave of social-media-savvy bookshops, McNally Jackson Booksellers is out to save the bookstore scene in the city with its supportive atmosphere and chill café area. Routinely packed with creative customers who embrace the lack of WiFi, McNally is a store for all ages and tribes offering fiction organized by country and a dedicated travel writing section, in addition to its main range of contemporary fiction, nonfiction, art books and independent magazines from around the world. The store also runs a self-publishing desk, allowing budding writers to print their works on demand.

Address: 52 Prince Street, Soho, Manhattan, New York.

6. Books Are Magic, Brooklyn

Bringing some youthful enchantment to proceedings is Brooklyn-based Books Are Magic, a hot new indie bookstore NYC. The baby of a local author and graphic designer pairing, Books Are Magic was born following the closure of their community’s only independent bookstore in 2017. This beautifully designed space does a stellar job of filling the gaping hole in the market, going several steps further to provide bean bags and range of subscription services. In the evenings, Books Are Magic is rarely without an event, regularly scheduled for book signings, readings and other sales events.

Address: 225 Smith Street, Cobble Hill, Brooklyn, New York.

Books Are Magic

7. The Astoria Bookshop, Astoria – Queens

Sitting majestically in Queens is The Astoria Bookshop, one of just a few remaining indie bookstores NYC still nurtures, revitalizing the neighbourhood with great literature since 2013. With a solid range of fiction, non-fiction and children’s books, The Astoria Bookshop has something for everyone, with friendly staff on hand to help your search. Come for one of their book club or signing events to be wowed by local storytelling talent, proving that creativity in Queens is very much alive and kicking.

Address: 31-29, 31st Street, Queens, New York.

8. Codex Books, East Village

Those looking for pre-loved tomes should check out Codex Books, one of the best bookstores in NYC dealing in used books. Recently opened in the East Village on the corner of Bowery and Bleeker adjacent to Think Coffee, Codex Books sells everything with an emphasis on literary fiction and art books. It’s $1 sidewalk library is where you’ll spot the city’s youthful tote-wielding literati, most hailing from NYU. Inside, browse classic collections of books and poetry, as well as art, cinema and philosophy sections. The store also buys lightly loved titles, if you happen to be looking to unload.

Address: 1 Bleeker Street, New York.

Photo: Kinga Cichewicz

Books Are Magic

9. Bonnie Slotnick Cookbooks, Bowery

Whether you’re a budding gourmand or an amateur baker, Bonnie Slotnick Cookbooks in the East Village can be your sanctuary, home to the widest and best range of cookbooks in NYC, including out-of-print relics that serve to immortalize important New York food history. Get lucky on arrival and you may even experience one of the store’s fabulous tasting sessions, arranged by Bonnie Slotnick herself with the kind of warm-hearted living room hospitality, not even your mom can muster. With cookbooks, magazines and antique volumes dating as far back as the 18th century, visitors to Bonnie Slotnick’s place could easily lose an hour or two before taking her recommendations and a map of the neighbourhood for the road.

Address: 28 East Second Street, Ney York.

10. The Mysterious Bookshop, Financial District

While you might expect Tribeca’s Financial District to be primarily packed with suited stuff and the occasional upscale tailors, The Mysterious Bookshop will leave you pleasantly surprised. Lined with floor-to-ceiling mahogany bookshelves, where the top tomes are accessible via old school rolling ladders, The Mysterious Bookstore, which opened in 1979, seems to have been lifted straight from a Sherlock Holmes mystery and offers the perfect locale to geek out with genre super fans. Aptly, the store specializes in mystery fiction and is one of the oldest bookstores of its type across America. From $2 true crime paperbacks and periodicals to limited edition thrillers from the likes of Lee Child and Michael Connelly along with some lesser-known store exclusives, The Mysterious Bookshop will leave you wishing you’d opted for a bigger luggage allowance.

Address: 58 Warren Street, New York.

The Mysterious Bookshop

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