Walking Tour

The Most Magical Indie Bookshops in All the (NYC) Land

A tour of NYC's loveliest, enchanting (and, alas, endangered) independent bookstores. Visit them, plus nearby coffee and drink nooks where you enjoy your new read, for a spiritual cleanse.

The independent bookstore has long been considered a sacred institution in the eyes of many New Yorkers. Without them, where else would Harry have met Sally (again)? Would Shopgirl and NY152 ever have had their happy ending? More important, where else would you receive the special care and individual attention that a local bookseller provides? After all, the owners of Barnes & Noble don’t personally call to let you know when your favorite author’s latest work is available.

Unfortunately, though, the age of technology, mega chain stores, and the e-book have put our local brick-and-mortar shops in peril; New York City’s most beloved independent bookstores have been slowly disappearing throughout the boroughs (RIP BookCourt).

So we’ve put together a list of the city’s must-visit indie bookshops, from secondhand cookbook sellers to brand-new neighborhood gems established by bestselling authors. Patronize them before they’re turned into more Chases and Rite Aids.

We also paired each bookshop with its perfect (and close-by) eating and drinking match, because a good hardcover deserves some food (and drink) for thought. Read on below.

We want to help you break out of your comfort zone and expand your horizons (we love the Strand, too, but it’s not the only indie bookstore in town). Editor Danielle Murphy browsed, flipped, and sipped her way through our picks for the best mom-and-pop bookshops, plus the coffee shops, bakeries, and bars where you can get to know your new read.

Three Lives & Company
Step through the red double doors of this small corner bookshop at 10th and Waverly and you’re immediately welcomed with the comforting smells of fresh-pressed book pages, frayed Persian rugs, and weathered leather couches. Thousands of books are squeezed into every shelf and crevice, and towering stacks block the floor-to-ceiling windows; I couldn’t see or hear the street life outside, which made the shop feel encompassing and mysterious. With no genre markers to be found, I navigated each section blindly—starting in fiction and eventually stumbling upon everything from memoir and poetry to culinary, history, and language. Don’t let the size of this place fool you; tiny surprises materialized at every turn, including a couple of novels autographed by their writers—I found Bill Hayes’s John Hancock in his memoir Insomniac City, which he called a celebration of the “evanescent and the unexpected” of life in NYC. And the unexpected certainly rounded out my evening as I watched a staff member happily pull out a couple of dog treats for a customer who strolled in with her Labrador retriever.

Van Leeuwen Artisan Ice Cream
We all know a piping hot cup of tea or coffee pairs nicely with a good book (along with a plushy love seat), but how about replacing that caffeine fix with something a little sweeter? Walk 20 steps across the street and you’ll find yourself at this cozy artisanal ice cream shop, where you can read your new experimental fiction and taste experimental flavors (vegan turmeric palm sugar cookie, anyone?). Although tempting, I wouldn’t recommend braving a three-scooper—no one wants mint chocolate chip stains on her brand-new hardcover.