Everyone in New York knows the Strand Book Store, as it is the largest indie bookseller in New York. Famous for having about 18 miles of new, used and rare books, as well as vinyl and some other bits and pieces, the store is laid out on four large floors. All of them full of books. It’s been here for over 90 years, but some of the books it houses are older than that. The Strand started selling new books to broaden its offering as Amazon started killing off (literally) indie booksellers. The store is larger and more packed with books than ever. And certainly a better place to browse and buy than the new Amazon brick-and-mortar bookstores.
I have been buying books there forever. I found a set of the original Flair Magazine years ago, for next to nothing. Unhappily that’s unlikely to happen again, but my favorite place to browse is up on the 3rd floor in the Rare Book Room. First editions and signed copies are displayed everywhere.
The last time I was there a collection of signed Andy Warhol’s Interview Magazine from the ’70s — hello Jack Nicholson, Farrah Fawcett, and Grace Jones — and books by and about Andy and The Factory had just arrived. Who knows why the collector wanted to divest it, but if you are interested they might still be there.
There are books on pretty much any subject. Of course there is a very large selection of collectible photography books. Are you looking for books on obscure areas of Chinese art, Persian art, or mid-century modern architecture? They, too, are here.
Musicians, actors and all kinds of theater folk have their own section. Along with the books is a selection of Playbills. Pick up one from the 1950’s Can-Can production that gave Gwen Verdon her start.
Fashion monographs, vintage magazines and histories have their place as well.
Want to start a collection of Pulp Fiction? The covers feature lavish period illustrations of larger than life heroes, pretty girls and villains. Why were they called Pulp? Pulp was the kind of inexpensive paper that they were printed on. The addictive genre was where writers such as Raymond Chandler and Ray Bradbury cut their teeth.
Well maybe R. Crumb isn’t for children, but you will find Babar, Eloise, Maurice Sendak and Curious George all for sale. Children’s books have always delighted adults as well as children.
Tucked around the space are odd groupings of books to discover. You really never know what you might find.
Signed copies are the most desirable, and the Strand has several centuries of them. The entire 3rd floor can be rented for events and parties. All the displays are moveable. The store hosts a very diverse selection of author events, from William Eggleston to Lil Wayne and everyone in between. The schedule is on their website. You can reserve a book or buy a gift card to secure a place. They also do literary film festivals, with tickets on sale through their website.
Nancy Bass Wyden, the granddaughter of the Strand’s founder, and current owner, came up with the idea of furnishing libraries with collections of books. Called books by the foot, or books by the yard, the staff works with just about every decorator you might have heard of. It is run out of a corner office.
Chances are good that you have been in a room that was enhanced by this service. Libraries can be built by color, collection, book size, or anything else you might dream up. Since the Strand buys books, of all stripes and not just rare, they have a continuing stream of titles to select from.
The Strand is also famous for its bins of bargain books arranged on the sidewalk outside. It’s rare that there is no one poking though the shelves. When is the last time you were here? Can’t make it? Books are available on the website as well, even rare ones.
Strand Bookstore, 828 Broadway at 12th St., www.strandbooks.com / Kiosks: Central Park, 5th Avenue and 60th St. and 43rd St. between Broadway and 7th Avenue.
Gucci opened its new prototype boutique on Wooster Street in 2018. It spreads across an entire block, with a bookstore anchoring the West Broadway entrance. The store itself is wonderfully eclectic, and the bookstore certainly is.
The space is large and open, with spaces to sit and read. The Gucci Wooster Bookstore celebrates the small independent bookstores of yore. You will find new, used and rare books on music, film, fashion, literature, poetry and photography put together with the help of the founder of Dashwood Books.
Alessandro Michele, Gucci’s creative director, decided to decorate the space with pieces from an old pharmacy, dismantled and moved to New York. The space is dramatic, just like everything he does.
The books are mixed freely on the shelves. Old and new sit together.
Books on photography sit next to books on pop icons and books on artists, in many languages.
The displays draw you in.
The store carries a very cutting edge selection of photography books. They also host book signings and cultural events. Gucci and Dashwood published a four-book series of photographs by Paige Powell, called Paige Powell New York. Paige worked with Warhol at Interview back in the ’80s and learned from Andy to record everything. The books are full of her Polaroids of the ’80’s scene and things she loved. Gucci built a large walk-in gallery covered with the photographs that was positioned at the front of the main store. It’s fantastic to see a big brand giving back to the community.
You could walk in and experience the ’80’s scene downtown.
The books on display seem to change all the time. It’s an interesting, tightly curated mix.
Behind the bookstore, leading in to the main part of the boutique is a “private” movie space. The Victorian on acid chairs come with their own mouse ear headphones. Recent films on view include the documentary Antonio Lopez 1970: Sex, Fashion & Disco and Gus Van Sant’s My Private Idaho. You are welcome to just stop in and watch the film. No purchase necessary.
Gucci, 63 Wooster Street.
Rizzoli, another favorite, reopened (again) in 2015 near Madison Square Park in Flatiron. Rizzoli came to New York in the 1960s in a landmarked building on Fifth Avenue, and then moved to yet another wonderfully decorated space on West 57 Street. Their lease expired, Rizzoli moved out, and the building was razed for new development. Luckily the store found space on Broadway, and the store, with very different proportions, is still providing New Yorkers with one of the ultimate book experiences in the city. One has to love the humorous decor.
Rizzoli is owned by and Italian publisher, and carries books in Italian, Spanish, French, as well as English. They started publishing books in the ’70s and now more than a few imprints. This year they published Making Rooms Your Own: Lessons from Interior Designers, written by the Editors of New York Social Diary, with a forward by David Patrick Columbia, photographs by Jeffrey Hirsch, and the text written by Sian Ballen and Lesley Hauge, all of this very publication.
Familiar bookcases divide the space into sections to browse. Every section has a complete and eclectic collection of books related to the section.
At the back of the store is a large light-filled space where the store has author’s nights and performances. You can rent the space for events such as book parties, dinners, cocktail parties, or whatever you want.
The back of the store houses an extensive collection on decorating and decorators, the art of living and living with art, among many other subjects.
What do you love or aspire to? Are you a decorator or a devote?
Books on obscure and not so obscure periods of furniture, decorative items, objects and trends tempt.
Want to learn about architecture? It’s a good idea to start here. It’s one of the best selections in the country. Rizzoli will also design a library for your home or office, curating a collection to suit your taste.
Lace, rugs, knitting, fabrics, silver or gems? What’s your interest?
Interested in the designer du jour? Looking for style tips? New photographers or stylish sayings?
Fiction and non fiction have their own sections. You’ll find new releases as well as older books. Should you not be able to find what you are looking for the staff is happy to order it for you if it’s in print.
Catch up on the newest trends in food and drink, or find some new recipes. The choices are endless. Same with the performing arts.
If travel is your thing, books and guides to New York, the USA and beyond will tempt you. The best and most tempting part about stopping by Rizzoli browsing through a universe of books. You end up wanting more that you could ever carry home, even as you find a few books you have to have, and buy them. Keep that wish list in your head; one always needs new books. It’s best to visit the store, but if you can’t visit their website.
Rizzoli, 1133 Broadway, www.rizzolibookstore.com
Assouline, the luxury publisher, has several bookstores dotted around the city. I am in love with the one in the Plaza Hotel. Hidden away in the hotel lobby, guarded by whimsical Lalanne lookalike sheep, it is a design statement.
Assouline was started by Prosper and Martine Assouline in the 1990s, and has morphed into a luxury lifestyle brand store. The titles they publish are extremely aspirational.
You can purchase anything for the library, Assouline style, in the space. Books, candles, trunks, bibelots, and more books. The delightful sheep are for sale and reasonably priced.
Assouline publishes books on a very wide variety of subjects, and the store carries only their titles, beautifully.
The space does not feel like a store but rather a room you would want to move in to. Horse lover, travel addict, art lover or fashionista, you will find books you will lust after.
One wall is cover with bookbinding tools and video screens. Another wall of books features monographs and titles that brands use to define their heritage.
All of this is stylishly tucked into a balcony with windows overlooking Grand Army Plaza, and a view of the lobby below. Feel free to stop in and hang out and draw some inspiration for your own luxury library. New York City is, indeed, a book lovers paradise. Uptown or downtown, please stop in.
Assouline, The Plaza 768 Fifth Avenue, www.assouline.com
Barbara Hodes is the owner of NYC Private Shopping Tour, offering customized tours in New York and Brooklyn.