Wednesday, August 8, 2012

NYC Bookshops, Part I: Upper East Side

Crawford Doyle occupies a stretch of Madison Avenue that was once a haven for book sellers.
NYC Bookshops, Part I: Upper East Side
by Delia von Neuschatz

It's true that some beloved independent bookstores have closed in recent years, but there remain quite a few which continue to provide a welcome respite from today's pervasive homogenization. They are as eclectic as their bibliophilic owners (and employees) and whether through reading clubs, children's sing-alongs or simply the occasion for an informative chat, these shops form vibrant neighborhood gathering spots.

The stores mentioned here are just a few of my favorite ones and the list is by no means exhaustive. For a more comprehensive list of bookshops in New York and indeed, throughout the United States, check out Below are half-a-dozen stores on the Upper East Side, in no particular order. Future installments will cover other neighborhoods.

Crawford Doyle Booksellers
1082 Madison Avenue (between 81st and 82nd Streets)
(212) 288-6300
John Doyle and Judith Crawford in their elegant Carnegie Hill apartment, which also serves as the Crawford Doyle Library, a repository of rare first editions, available for viewing by appointment. A former IBM executive, John, and his wife Judith decided to indulge their love of books by opening Crawford Doyle in 1995. The beautiful painting above the mantel is by Louise Griswold.
A hop, skip and a jump away from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, amidst fashionable boutiques, art galleries and cafés, sits a veritable book lover's paradise. Crawford Doyle at first beckons with its well-stocked windows, draws you in with its first editions and art auction catalogues judiciously located in the entrance and then continues to entice you with its warm wood paneling and tomato bisque walls. The seduction is complete when you begin talking to its employees, several of whom have been there for many years and are truly knowledgeable about what is on offer.

Dot McCleary
, in particular, has been working at Crawford Doyle since it opened its doors, but has been selling books for much longer than that – since 1978 to be precise. It will be difficult not to walk away with a treasure, as I did (84 Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff) after conversing with Dot, who takes care to ask you your opinions about what you've read. Perhaps this is one of the reasons she has a following.
Some first editions at Crawford Doyle. First editions of British and American 20th century fiction are a specialty. They run anywhere from $50 to thousands of dollars, but most are in the $200-$300 range.
The signed John Updike is $500.
The Talented Mr. Ripley will set you back $3,000. Those book collectors watching their pennies may appreciate the store’s Signed First Edition Club. Crawford Doyle will provide collectors with signed copies of current works which “will be important in the future.”
The shop, which has a well-edited selection of fiction, biography, history, travel, art and children's books, manages to be both a neighborhood hub and a draw for the international crowds that visit the world class museums nearby. Never mind that writers like to gather there too. On any given day, you may just find yourself rubbing elbows with Salman Rushdie, Tom Wolfe or Colum McCann.

Crawford Doyle also carries audio books, the Loeb Classical Library and literary journals. (My friends across the pond will appreciate knowing that the shop does well with the Slightly Foxed Quarterly). And if that's not enough, up on the shop's mezzanine, you will find The Compulsive Collector, a compilation of old and rare out-of-print books. In short, there's something for everyone.
Ami Megiddo, The Compulsive Collector, has been dealing in books for some 30 years. His wares run anywhere from about $10 to $250. You can reach him at (212) 879-7443 and also find his inventory at
In addition, if you're looking for a gift, but are not necessarily in the market for something rare, you'd do well to consider Crawford Doyle's Book Club for One. You let the shop know of a friend's (or your) particular area of interest, and the shop will select and send the designated recipient one book on that subject each month. It's the gift that keeps on giving.
Crawford Doyle's graceful logo was designed by renowned graphic designer, Louise Fili.
Archivia Books
993 Lexington Avenue (between 71st and 72nd streets)
It wouldn't be New York without the scaffolding.
This elegantly appointed shop is a feast for the eyes. One's imagination can't help but take flight amidst all the beautifully illustrated books on art, architecture, gardens, travel, furniture, photography, fashion, textiles and jewelry.

Co-founder, Cynthia Conigliaro's aim is to provide visual inspiration to sophisticated art collectors and designers and it's safe to say that she has achieved this goal in spades. The selections are narrow but deep. If your interest is in jewelry, for instance, at Archivia you will not only find books on the history of jewelry design, but you will be transported to far flung locales with tomes on African gold and Indian filigree.
Cynthia Conigliaro, one of Archivia's co-owners.
It would be a mistake, however, to think that Archivia caters only to those in the visual arts. It is very mindful of the general interest reader too and as such, provides popular fiction and non-fiction works related to its areas of expertise. You will find novels, biographies, travel guides and even manuals on manners sprinkled amongst its design-oriented offerings. In short, Archivia enriches the visual experience by providing a social context. Oh yeah – and, as Archivia is very much a reflection of the interests of its founders, you will find a considerable collection of cookbooks too for Cynthia is also passionate about food.
Archivia's stylish interior.
A Philippe Starck ghost chair graces a corner.
And when called upon, Cynthia will create a library for you. But whatever you do, do not – I repeat – do not make the mistake of going in there and asking for “books by the yard” to fill up shelf space in your newly decorated abode without so much as a thought about the titles you’d want to grace your shelves. For if you do this, Cynthia will throw you out as she has those foolish enough to do so in the past. And that kind of enthusiasm, my friends, is something you will never find at Amazon.
A timely advice book from Archivia.
A few of Archivia's tantalizing offerings.
The Corner Bookstore
1313 Madison Avenue at 93rd Street
(212) 831-3554
If Woody Allen and Nora Ephron would have put their heads together and conjured up a bookstore, this would be it. From both the inside and outside, this pretty-as-a-postcard shop looks like it belongs in a heart-warming romantic comedy and I mean that in the best possible way. Its charm is amplified by the fact that it occupies a former apothecary and has retained many of its original fixtures.
The counter area with its wood paneling and multi-tiered drawers is original to the apothecary which formerly occupied the space.
This vintage cash register is as beautiful as it is functional because believe or not, it is still used to ring up sales.
The view from the back – notice the pressed tin ceiling.
Chris Lenahan has been managing The Corner Bookstore for 24 years.
The shop's longevity (34 years and counting!) is a testament to its popularity in Carnegie Hill. Offering a fine selection of fiction, non-fiction, art, architecture, biography, classics, travel and children's books, the shop also holds events like author readings and book signings. Its beautifully wrapped gift baskets make popular gifts for anyone from newborns to adults.
A gift basket for a newborn.
A comfortable, old-fashioned bench invites browsing.
Hampton, so named because he was found abandoned in South Hampton 10 years ago, belongs to the shop. Here he is in the arms of Katherine Cox.
Kitchen Arts & Letters
1435 Lexington Avenue (between 93rd and 94th streets)
(212) 876-5550
Nach Waxman, the owner of Kitchen Arts & Letters, quickly dispelled any preconceived notions I might have had by telling me in no uncertain terms that the last thing his shop is, is a cookbook store. Carrying an impressive 13,000 titles or so in half a dozen languages, Kitchen Arts is the largest store of its kind in the United States, if not the world, catering to those who are “deeply interested in food and wine either as professionals or as ardent amateurs.” In other words, the store’s shelves are crammed with volumes on the restaurant industry, food science, agriculture, viticulture and so forth.
A publishing industry veteran, Nach Waxman, set up shop almost 30 years ago in 1983.
Food-themed postcards, greeting cards and wrapping paper are also on offer.
Manager, Matt Sartwell, has been with Kitchen Arts & Letters for 21 years.
And those with interests that lie more with the historical, cultural and literary aspects of food will not be disappointed. At Kitchen Arts, they will find tomes on the role of gastronomy in the plays of Molière, for instance, along with ancient Roman recipes accompanied by Roman food poetry. There are things like the second century BC, 8-volume, The Learned Banqueters by Athenaeus who had a lot to say about – you guessed it – dinner parties. The conversations, the food, the entertainment, the courtesans – the whole lot – is covered in this bi-lingual (English and classical Greek) culinary tour de force. Kitchen Arts also carries chef biographies, food-related travel guides, DVDs of Julia Child’s programs and even things like the screenplay for Tampopo, the cult Japanese “Ramen western.”
The shop has an 1869 edition of Mrs. Beeton's Book of Household Management. With her enormously popular books and magazine articles on cooking, entertaining and housekeeping, Isabella Beeton predated Martha Stewart by more than 100 years. This edition can be yours for $295.
Mrs. Beeton's mouth-watering color plates are works of art in and of themselves. For an excellent biography on this domestic goddess, check out The Short Life & Long Times of Mrs. Beeton by Kathryn Hughes (soon to be restocked by Kitchen Arts & Letters).
But getting back to those cookbooks – those looking merely for recipes won't be left bereft as Kitchen Arts carries a wide range of those too. And even non-foodies like me will appreciate the offerings. (See Jelly Shot Test Kitchen: Jell-ing Classic Cocktails One Drink at a Time by Michelle Palm.)
1575 York Avenue (between 83rd and 84th streets)
(212) 517-7292
Original artwork sold at Logos makes for a distinct window display and lets on that this bookshop also sells art.
A biblical term and an ancient Greek word which essentially means “the word” or alternatively, “knowledge,” Logos is an apropos name for this handsomely kitted bookshop-cum-art gallery, which aims to disseminate erudition.

How? Well, not only with its well-stocked range of fiction, history, mystery, cookery, philosophy and specialty of religious texts, but also with its reading clubs. The 13-year old “Kill Your TV” group, which meets on the first Wednesday of every month, is particularly popular.
Harris Healy, the owner of Logos.
There’s also the multi-faith “Sacred Text” group and parents of young children may be delighted to know that every Monday at 11:00 AM, Lily Nass, a children’s entertainer, gets tots to sing along with her “Princess Francesca” puppet. Participants partake in wine and refreshments at these gatherings (although not at Princess Francesca’s of course) and in a 20% discount on most items in the store.
The beautiful library-like shelves and fittings inspire perusal.
Plush toys on offer at Logos.
There's a small garden in the back.
Greeting cards at Logos perfectly capture that New York state of mind.
Some of the original artwork that is for sale.
There's another type of get-together at Logos that deserves mention here and that is its art openings, for Logos is not just a bookstore (commendable as that may be), but an art gallery as well. Its walls and shelves are hung with reasonably-priced original oils and photographs by local artists, among them Sonia Grineva, Paul Morin and Peter Pereira. Prices range from a few hundred dollars to a couple of thousand dollars. Lower-priced prints of some of the works are also available.
Prints of Sonia Grineva's work.
Artist Peter G. Pereira with one of his digital hydrangea prints. The prints are $300 (signed) and can be rendered into virtually any size – even wall size – without losing clarity.
The Book Cellar
1465 York Avenue (at 78th Street), (212) 288-5049
Good books at “bargain basement” prices makes The Cellar the best book deal in town.
And now we have come to one of the very best things about the Upper East Side. Period. The Book Cellar is located in the basement of the Webster Library branch of the New York Public Library. Entirely staffed by volunteers, this shop sells donated books for unbeatable prices. How does a couple of dollars sound? Well, that's the average price of a book at The Cellar and the merchandise isn't tatty either. All the books, from current to out-of-of print editions, are in good condition and some of them are brand new. As the shop is often called upon by estates – a few of them famous – to dispose of their books, the eagle-eyed browser might even spot a real treasure or two tucked amidst the offerings.
The cat is a motif because the cellar is the “natural habitat” of cats.
Dorothy Reiss, one of the indefatigable volunteers who help manage The Cellar. The shop was set up by volunteers nine years ago and continues to be run by them.
The space is set up like a bookstore with clearly labeled shelves, making it easy to navigate. You'll find pretty much any genre there from biographies to fiction to politics, history, cookbooks, self-help and religion. There's a very large mystery section and there's also a comprehensive classics section which makes The Cellar a popular destination for high school and college kids who show up armed with reading lists. And actors preparing for an audition make a beeline for The Cellar too as it carries plays for … get this … $1.00. That's one whole dollar.

One dollar also happens to be the price of the CDs, DVDs and even VHS tapes that are on offer. But that's not all. The Cellar has a load of children's books as well, some of which can be bought for as little as 50 cents. Current best-sellers, on the other hand, like The Chaperone by Laura Moriarty and The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker will set you back a whopping $6.00. Just so you know, as of this writing, the latter, which was published only a month ago, retails at Amazon for $15.60. (At these prices, the fact that The Cellar only takes cash or checks, shouldn't present much of a hardship.)
Some of the subjects stocked by The Cellar. Music aficionados will also appreciate the shop's collection of librettos.
Original shelves and period lighting from the 1905 Webster Library are put to good use.
Roger Casamassine, a volunteer at The Cellar.
Audrey Feldman, another devoted volunteer.
A pint-sized bench in the children's section of The Cellar.
The Cellar carries The Notable Trials Library, a set of beautifully bound leather books about the most famous trials in history – great gifts for lawyers and law school grads alike.
If these bargains don't make you feel warm and fuzzy, then the fact that you're contributing to a worthwhile cause (and thereby receiving a tax credit in the process) surely will. All proceeds go to the New York public branch libraries. The fact that The Cellar has been contributing about $100,000 per year shows just how popular a destination it is. And, they will not only take your books, but The Cellar will be happy to take your used shopping bags too as it is these which they provide to their customers. The Cellar, in other words, is a recycling center non-pareil and patronizing it is a win-win situation not just for the Upper East Side, but for New York City in general.
The entrance to the Webster branch of the New York Public Library. Erected in 1905, this was originally one of the Andrew Carnegie public libraries. Local activists (Friends of Webster) saved the building from destruction about 40 years ago when they obtained landmark status for it.