New York City is considered a literary capital of the world, and rightfully so: Many of the major publishing houses call the city home, as do a number of literary magazines including The New Yorker and Harper’s. Both Whitman (Walt) and Wharton (Edith) once lived here.
It’s only natural, then, that this literary capital is flush with independent bookstores. But like so many things in New York City, it can take some work to separate the meh from the magnificent. Consider this your starting list.
The Strand East Village
This landmark East Village shop is known for its collectibles, souvenirs, records, and proverbial 18 miles of books (spread across multiple floors). Browse the stacks and venture to the rare book room on the third floor to see the $45,000 copy of Ulysses, illustrated and signed by Henri Matisse and James Joyce. —K.L.
Greenlight Bookstore Fort Greene
Since opening in 2009, Greenlight Bookstore has become a cultural mainstay of the Fort Greene neighborhood (there’s also a second, newer location in Prospect Lefferts Gardens). The oversized windows of the original store face Fulton Street, inviting passersby to come in and browse or join one of the many readings, often featuring Brooklyn writers. —John Newton
Support it by: Ordering books for home delivery, buying a gift card for a friend, or tuning in via Zoom for story time.
McNally Jackson SoHo, Williamsburg, City Point, South Street Seaport
McNally Jackson was founded in 2004 by Sarah McNally (whose family established Canada’s largest independent bookstore chain, McNally Robinson). The original outpost opened on Soho’s Prince Street, but in recent years, McNally Jackson has opened new spaces in Williamsburg, at City Point in Downtown Brooklyn, as well as at the South Street Seaport in Lower Manhattan, bringing the shop’s total locations to four across New York City. The independent bookstore sells historical memoirs and international literature, graphic novels and thrillers, science fiction and nonfiction, as well as books for children and young adults, cookbooks, philosophical anthologies, and rarefied art magazines, plus illustrated greeting cards and professional stationery. —Sarah Buder
Support it by: Purchasing books on McNally Jackson’s website; the bookstore delivers throughout Manhattan and says it will “happily ship” anywhere in the United States, offering free economy mail on orders over $50. You can also buy a McJ gift card for future use.
Archestratus Books & Food Greenpoint
A former buyer for McNally Jackson, Housing Works, and Barnes & Noble, Paige Lipari opened Archestratus to share her love of rare books and Sicilian cuisine. At her Greenpoint store, every book has something to do with food, whether it’s a unique, out-of-print cookbook or a new title about gardening and foraging. Locals come here to scour the shelves as well as to fill up on the Sicilian baked goods that Lipari makes and sells in her attached café. Several nights a week, the shop also hosts events like classes, screenings, tastings, and even full-on Sicilian dinner parties. —Natalie Beauregard
Support it by: Placing an order online for curbside pickup Thursday through Sunday.
Book Culture Morningside Heights, Long Island City
The first Book Culture opened in Morningside Heights in 1997 as a community and academic bookstore for nearby Columbia University. Though it’s since added a second location in Long Island City, my favorite remains the original: To this day, it’s got an incredibly knowledgeable and helpful staff, and deals galore can be found in its neat aisles (head upstairs for a remarkable selection of books from foreign presses). It’s my favorite place to browse on a weekend. —K.L.
Support it by: Placing your order online for books you can receive via mail or pick up at the store on 112th Street during limited hours. (The Long Island City location is currently closed.)
The Mysterious Bookshop Tribeca
In 1979, Otto Penzler opened the first and possibly best bookstore dedicated to mysteries. In addition to numerous author events, this store offers seven different crime clubs, featuring monthly selections of signed first editions. And each year it publishes a Bibliomystery, a story written for the bookstore and featuring writers, readers, collectors, and others involved with books. John Harvey, Denise Mina, and Laura Lippman are among the leading authors who have penned Bibliomysteries. —Pat Tompkins
Astoria Bookshop Astoria
One of just a handful of independent bookstores in Queens, Astoria Bookshop opened in 2013 and has become a meeting place for the community of this neighborhood on the western edge of the borough. Tune in to its weekly story times—via Instagram Live every Thursday at 11 a.m. ET—and check out its author events and various book clubs online. —Lyndsey Matthews
Support it by: Preordering books slated to be released later this year or purchasing audiobooks through its Libro.fm account. Astoria Bookshop also teamed up with designer Debbie Millman via Merch Aid to create a line of Astoria Bookshop T-shirts and tote bags, with 100 percent of sales going directly to the bookstore.
A small store with an outsize personality, Word is committed to fostering a community that loves to read. Here, locals can shop a wide variety of books, cards, and gifts, or chat up a friendly employee for tailored reading recommendations. Down the stairs in the back of the store, a common area hosts regular events that go beyond basic readings, including book club meetings, craft workshops, and children’s story times. —N.B.
Support it by: Placing an order online or by phone for curbside pickup or delivery, buying a gift card, or donating directly via PayPal.
The Lit Bar Mott Haven
The Lit Bar opened in 2019 as the Bronx’s only independent bookstore, with a mission to “create a haven that inspires reading, encourages healthy social interaction, highlights diverse voices, and increases intellectual visibility in the Bronx.” An added bonus? The multi-functional spot also serves as a wine bar and event space. —K.L.
Support it by: Subscribing to its newsletter and shopping books online.
Books Are Magic Cobble Hill
When New York Times–bestselling author Emma Straub and her husband Michael Fusco-Straub found out that their local independent bookseller, BookCourt, was closing in Brooklyn’s Cobble Hill neighborhood in 2016, the couple decided to open their own bookstore located on Smith Street, a few blocks away. Books Are Magic offers titles for readers of all ages; its stocked shelves feature everything from illustrated children’s books and young adult novels to nonfiction memoirs and literary fiction, as well as cookbooks, poetry collections, art books, and more. The independent bookshop also regularly functions as an event space for author signings and book readings (most of which are free to attend). —S.B.
Support it by: Shopping for specific titles through Books Are Magic’s website (shipping takes about five to seven business days), or signing up for a Monthly Magic Book Subscription to receive a staff-curated collection of new book releases (determined by genre) sent to your front door for up to 6 or 12 months.
Want to read more with us? Join fellow literature lovers online at AFAReads, our digital book club.