Nerdy, Wordy, and Thriving: The Independent Bookstore

Peruse, read, sip, and repeat at NYC’s best independent bookshops and nearby coffee shops and watering holes.

Photo by Ugur Akdemir/Unsplash

Last summer, I embarked on a literary mission across New York City in search of the most beloved (and wildly endangered) independent bookstores. Throughout my journey I found myself in the West Village, perusing the stacks of Three Lives & Company; floating on cloud nine in Cobble Hill’s Books Are Magic; and searching for Waldo inside Astoria’s only indie bookshop. Seeing these small businesses thrive warmed the heart of this serial reader.

Like a proverbial cockroach, the independent bookstore has managed to prevail among countless book-selling juggernauts (I’m looking at you, Mr. Barnes) and the formidable force of the digital age. Even in the face of extinction, these store live on thanks to the New Yorkers who realize their importance and appreciate the magic hiding on every shelf. (Honestly, where else than an understated travel bookshop would a girl stand in front of a boy, asking him to love her?)

Since my original roundup last year, I’ve discovered even more independent bookshop gems across the boroughs—from a store full of secrets to a Rosie the Riveter–approved neighborhood favorite—as well as their perfect counterparts to sit, relax, drink, eat, and, of course, read!

Get Wordy at: The Mysterious Bookshop
Eat, Read, and Repeat at: Kaffe 1668

Put on the spectacles and don the trenchcoat: It’s time to investigate at the Mysterious Bookshop. First opened in 1979, the store is the oldest of its kind and carries quite a few rare and limited-edition titles for its Conan Doyle superfan customers. Think you’ve solved every riddle or read every cliffhanger out there? The Bibliomystery Series offers four original works each year, written exclusively for the Mysterious Bookshop. If you’re content to sticking with the classics, join one of the seven crime clubs (thriller, espionage, hard-boiled, etc.) for access to collectors’ editions and signed works. 58 Warren Street (between West Broadway and Church Street), Tribeca

independent bookstores nyc
Photo courtesy of the Mysterious Bookshop

Grab the Watson to your Sherlock for a couple of “eggs n’ things” at this spacious café down the block. Join freelancers and fellow bookworms at the large communal tables for a pick-me-up paired with a spinach and sweet potato omelet. You might be solving crime one page at a time in Anthony Horowitz’s newest thriller, The World Is Murder, but it’s no mystery that the best way to keep your hours-long book bender going is through one of Kaffe’s macchiatos. 275 Greenwich Street (between Warren and Murray Streets), Tribeca

independent bookstores nyc
Photo courtesy of Kaffe 1668

Get Wordy at: Bluestockings
Eat, Read, and Repeat at: Remedy Diner

This radical bookstore and activist center has probably seen a substantial spike in sales in the last year and a half. Did President Trump’s decision to back out of the Paris climate deal foster an interest in environmental studies? Is the #MeToo movement pushing you to fight harder for female rights? These topics are covered in more than 6,000 titles carried at Bluestockings, as well as a number of readings focused on queer/gender/racial studies, global capitalism, and more. And if you’re ever looking to get more involved in the community, just take a look at the message board for a list of workshops, discussions, and other events that occur almost every night. 172 Allen Street (between Rivington and Stanton Streets), Lower East Side

Photo courtesy of Bluestockings

Once in a while, a book enters your life and there’s simply no putting it down until you’ve finished all 573 pages. That’s where this LES staple comes to save the day. Open 24-7 and ready to take your breakfast order at any time during the day or night, Remedy welcomes the all-nighter crowd with open arms. (Its buttermilk pancakes can cure anything—maybe even bloodshot eyes.) 245 East Houston Street (between Norfolk and Suffolk Streets), Lower East Side

independent bookstores nyc
Photo by Marygrace A/Yelp 

Get Wordy at: 192 Books
Eat, Read, and Repeat at: Frankie Portugal

What do you get when a gallerist and an editor fall head over heels for each other? An art-focused bookshop in the heart of NYC’s famous art district. Creativity jumps from the pages of publications concentrated on photography, art literature, and mastering your craft. But the wide, inviting windows that make up the storefront give passersby a peek at the latest bestsellers in a variety of genres. 192 Tenth Avenue (at West 21st Street), Chelsea

independent bookstores nyc
Photo courtesy of 192 Books

If you haven’t heard of this little Portuguese joint, you’re in for quite a treat—literally. Owner Joey Batista honors his family’s heritage by serving pastéis de nata, a custard tart that has everyone wondering: Where have Portuguese pastries been all my life? WSWD’s editorial assistant, Ally Schenker, isn’t shy to admit that she is one of those people: “They are incredibly authentic. The sweet egg custard is perfectly browned on top and the croissantlike crust is deliciously flaky.” You’ll find her sitting in front of the French doors, sipping a cappuccino and reading her latest obsession, Martha Hall Kelly’s Lilac Girls. 457 West 17th Street (at Tenth Avenue), Chelsea

Get Wordy at: Molasses Books
Eat, Read, and Repeat at: The Wheelhouse

Half used bookstore, half bar: Molasses Books is the coolest hangout in Bushwick. Is it because it hosts readings, DJs, and happy hours for regular Brooklynites? Or because it might be the only place in New York (the country? the world?) where you can barter books for beer? Or maybe it’s because this watering hole–readers’ heaven hybrid is open until midnight, so you can let loose or burn the midnight oil behind a worn-out paperback? We say all of the above. 770 Hart Street, Bushwick

independent bookstores nyc
Photo courtesy of Molasses Books/Facebook

After trading in your R.L. Stines for IPAs, you’re bound to get hungry. At the Wheelhouse, you can add a little DIY to a childhood—and let’s face it, adulthood—favorite sandwich, the grilled cheese. From the ooey-gooey cheese (choose from eight different kinds) to the extra goodness stuffed inside (pancetta, short ribs, fried egg) down to the fresh bread that holds it all together, this simple sammie escalates to gourmet excellence in a flash. Pair it with a classic tomato soup and a copy of the book you didn’t have the heart to swap with, and that’s all she wrote, folks. 165 Wilson Avenue, Bushwick

independent bookstores nyc
Photo courtesy of the Wheelhouse/Facebook

Get Wordy at: Topos Bookstore Cafe
Eat, Read, and Repeat at: Julia’s Beer and Wine Bar

The smells of old books and freshly made espresso fill the air at this local favorite. (Just makes you want to sit down in those party-of-one tables and crank out a short story, doesn’t it?) The quaint shop might be tiny in size, but its neighborhood vibe—from the black wrought-iron entrance gates to the beautifully painted ceramic coffee cups—shows signs of a big heart that only beats for page-turners. You’ll definitely want to call the outside seating area home this fall; this airy space has that watch-the-leaves-fall-on-a-Sunday-afternoon feel to it. 788 Woodward Avenue, Ridgewood

independent bookstores nyc
Photo by Bobby F/Yelp

This cozy haunt up the road is for the Elizabeth Bennet turned Mrs. Fitzwilliam Darcy: engrossed in a book, except the only thing you’ll come up for air for is not a wealthy gentleman but, rather, the best charcuterie board in Queens. You’ll never see a dish plated with nonlocally sourced ingredients, and the cocktail list will have your head spinning. And if you’re not entirely enthralled by the book in front of you, Julia’s usually spotlights the work of local artists on its walls. The art is on constant rotation and available for purchase, if you feel so inspired. 818 Woodward Avenue, Ridgewood

independent bookstores nyc
Photo courtesy of Julia’s Beer and Wine Bar/Facebook

Get Wordy at: Quimby’s Bookstore NYC
Eat, Read, and Repeat at: The West Brooklyn

From the Windy City to the one that never sleeps, Quimby’s brings its quirky, organized-mess vibes to the zine lovers, alternative magazine skimmers, and Pop/Surrealism junkies of Brooklyn. The small space is one worth exploring—you’ll find outlaw art on one shelf, titles about punk rock on another, and some taxidermy for sale. There are no rules when it comes to Quimby’s—except for one. No comic books. The shop’s neighbor is Desert Island, which has long been called one of the best comic bookstores in NYC. Instead of becoming rivals, founder Steven Svymbersky hung a sign on the door encouraging his customers to visit Desert Island. Indie bookstores supporting other indie bookstores: Two thumbs up from us! 536 Metropolitan Avenue, Williamsburg

independent bookstores nyc
Photo by Steven Svymbersky/Courtesy of Quimby’s Bookstore

WeWork who? Down the block from Quimby’s is the West Brooklyn, which is essentially a workers’ and readers’ paradise without costing an arm and a leg. The brick-walled exterior opens up to a space reminiscent of a ski lodge–meets–beer pub with its wood bar, wood-paneled floor, and dozens of brown stools. In addition to supplying your reader’s brain with caffeine and a dozen rotating craft beers on tap, the Williamsburg haunt also provides the tools necessary to create a space for both work and play. You’ll find multiple electrical outlets throughout the bar to plug in and lots of seating for those looking to unplug. (Oh, and the wifi is free.) Founder Esther Bell makes a point to put the comfort of her customers and local artists/writers first, which makes sense since she’s written and directed quite a few feature films. (We hope she adds “author” to her résumé next.) 379 Union Avenue, Williamsburg

independent bookstores nyc
Photo courtesy of the West Brooklyn/Facebook

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