It started with a map; well, it started with a love of bookstores and a desire to go to a new one every time I was in New York City. So I began to compile a Google Map of all the bookstores I knew of. Then I dug deeper, googling “best bookstores of nyc,” “nyc indie bookstores” and going 20 pages deep in Yelp for “bookstores near Manhattan.” I started to color-code—orange are bookstores which require an appointment, red means they serve alcohol (see below for full color key). Once I visited a bookstore, the marker became a star. I think it was then I decided I wanted to visit every single bookstore—I wanted to see my map filled with stars.
See, like many readers, I’m kind of obsessed with bookstores, and indie bookstores—with their very human curation, cozy atmosphere, and knowledgable staff—especially. If I visit a new city, I want to go to their bookstore. Nine times out of ten I can tell you what store a book on my shelf came from because the purchase is intricately linked to the memory of shelving units, table displays, and staff recommendations. I love the potential of every bookstore visit. And, as a New Yorker, I was driven to know my city’s bookstores intimately.
I made a lot of progress, but before I could finish my quest I moved across the country for a job in Seattle. My map languished. Bookstores closed, bookstores opened; my map did not change, and I despaired that my quest would never be complete. I still feel that way—like my TBR list, my NYC Bookstore map is something I’ll likely never get all the way through. So, I wanted to share it; I want others to take up my quest. Below, you’ll find my map (and full color key), but first I’d like to point out a few of my favorites:
They specialize in used and rare books, but without that out-of-reach expensive/everything lives behind a glass case feel. What I mean to say is it’s still very browsable and holds a ton of reasonably priced gems. I found a copy of The Bread We Eat In Dreams, an out of print short story collection by Cat Valente.
A volunteer-run, collectively-owned radical, feminist, all-around amazing bookstore. Whether you’re interested in politics, activism, or are just looking for a great novel, Bluestockings has you covered. They have an eclectic selection including a lot of harder-to-find small press books and some wonderful zines. This is one of the stores I miss most.
The small space, dark wood shelves, and dusky lighting create such a cozy atmosphere; this bookstore feels like home. Ask any New York bookseller, and I bet they’d leave their current job for a chance to work at Three Lives. And, despite their size, their inventory is so well-curated, their staff so friendly and knowledgeable, I always leave with something new to read.
A delicious cookbook bookstore and cafe. Is there anything better than browsing a bookstore that smells like a bakery? And they don’t just sell cookbooks, they also have food essays and fiction that’s at least food-adjacent.
I would be remiss if I didn’t have the bookstore that kickstarted my career on this short list of favorites. Located in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, and Jersey City, New Jersey, WORD is—in my totally unbiased opinion as a former employee—one of the best indies in the country with its highly curated selection, and intelligent and hilarious staff. Also, WORD instilled me with a respect for and love of Romance novels, which you can’t say for most bookstores.
I could go on, detailing what books I discovered where, who has the best used selection, and who the comfiest chairs. But I think I want you to discover that on your own. So here is my map. Feel free to add bookstores to it, or to copy it and change the markers to represent which stores you’ve visited. I hope you find some new favorite places.
- yellow: general indie bookstore
- orange: by appointment only
- red: serves alcohol
- green: specialized (feel free to change these, you’ll see I began to subsection, but it is quite a project—I’d love to know which stores specializing in cooking, which in sci-fi)
- brown: used and rare
- violet: specializing in kids books
- navy: specializing in travel books
- light blue: specializing in religion & spirituality
- pink: specializing in fashion, art, photography