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Best Manhattan Independent Book Stores on the UWS

You might have wondered recently what’s going on with the independent bookstores in your neighborhood. According to people who follow these things, the end of the nineties and early 2000’s saw their massive decline across the U.S. You might remember this being covered in the 1998 box office hit ‘You’ve Got Mail’. In the movie, Meg Ryan’s ‘Shop Around The Corner’ faces a crisis when Tom Hanks’ Fox Bookstore mega chain arrives on Manhattan’s Upper West Side and gives way to the seemingly inevitable march of progress.

But now it’s 2023, and the good news is that there has been a resurgence in these neighborhood mainstays over the past decade. People still like to read. Despite our absorption with screen time and iPhones, and our inability to find time in the day to do practically anything, reading is still in style. I informally surveyed a bunch of young and not so young just recently on this topic. A hefty majority revealed that they like to engage with print books, and they will happily browse in a bookstore for pleasure. Best case scenario, they’ll walk out with a few purchases and all the best intentions of reading them.

So why the apparent renaissance in independent bookstores? Simple really. They make it their business to know and focus on their customer and cater to their needs. Most of them have a significant backstory. Some have niche sections or are go-to’s for what you can’t find anywhere else. Their staff members tend to be pretty knowledgeable and passionate about their work. So if you’re looking for some of the finest independent bookstores on the Upper West Side, look no further.

Westsider Books – 2246 Broadway (between W. 80th & 81st Streets)

This store is a hidden gem on the Upper West Side. In addition to buying, selling, and trading rare and used books, its got that authentic neighborhood feel that draws Upper Westsiders and visitors in. Is it their notorious Halloween party each October 31st? Or perhaps it seems vaguely familiar from its cameo appearances in Woody Allen’s 2013 movie ‘Fading Gigolo’. Either way, with its inventory of over 40,000 books, including hardcover, paperback, photography books, first editions, and out-of-print titles, this unique store is worth several visits. Just ask any one of its loyal patrons and customers. They raised over $50,000 through crowdfunding in 2019, to keep this beloved neighborhood store open.

Strand – 450 Columbus Ave. (between W. 81st & 82nd Streets)

Not too many bookstores can claim to have been in business for almost 100 years. These bragging rights belong to The Strand, a bookstore founded in 1927 by Lithuanian immigrant Benjamin Bass. Named after the London street, the bookstore was initially located on 4th Avenue. (There reportedly were 48 bookstores in this area of the city at the time, which combined to give the strip the name ‘Book Row’). The Strand’s flagship location is currently downtown on Broadway, and has been featured in movies, television, and is widely referenced in popular culture. Several locations subsequently opened across the city, with its Upper West Side location opening in 2020. Although the space is considerably tighter than its downtown location, the airy top floor offers an extensive inventory that can be seen through the large front windows. A downstairs department offers books and comics for children and young adults, as well as sections on music, the performing arts, science, technology, sports, nature, and wildlife. The store advertises a Weekend Story Time for all ages each Saturday and Sunday at noon and at 3 pm.

West Side Judaica & Bookstore – 2412 Broadway (between W. 88th & 89th Streets)

This Judaica store has an impressive track record, having been in business for multiple decades. The store carries a large selection of literary and historical items, as well as an impressive inventory to address any prayer needs. The “Love is Stronger than Hate” sign in the front window draws one in, and indeed, the staff members are warm in their welcome to this tranquil space. One can see why readers return time and again to browse and buy books, which are many and diverse. The walls are lined with bookshelves carrying an admirable array of Talmudic and English texts and contemporary releases. There are also children’s educational toys and books, as well as all sorts of religious items. These include beautiful menorahs, Kiddush cups, mezuzahs, jewelry, gifts, and even some cookware. While shopping locally has undoubtedly contributed to the store’s staying power over the years, one gets the impression that a loyal customer base makes a point of coming from far and near to visit and support this unique community resource.

Book Culture

536 W. 112th Street (between Broadway & Amsterdam)

2915 Broadway (corner of W. 114th Street)

Book Culture has two independent bookstores on the Upper West Side, close to Columbia University. Since their original founding as Labyrinth Books in 1997, there have been some changes. What has remained constant, however, is their commitment to providing high-quality literature to both the academic and neighborhood community, with an emphasis on diversity and choice. Book Culture on Broadway, located at the corner of 114th Street, has been serving the local community since 2009. Its bright and cheerful space features new releases, graphic novels, and special and general interest reading. The store has an impressive collection of one-of-a-kind gifts, stationery, and greeting cards. The vibrant children’s section downstairs rounds out the offerings. Book Culture on Broadway’s sister store can be found on 112th Street, where it caters largely to Columbia students and academics. You can find a list of their upcoming readings and events on the store’s website.

Shakespeare & Co. – 2020 Broadway (between W. 69th & 70th Streets) & 2736 Broadway (corner of W. 105th Street)

Shakespeare and Co. has two bookstores in Manhattan.  The original store, on the east side next to Hunter College, has been open for decades. The Upper West Side location is at 2020 Broadway and has been open since  2018. The modern and airy space carries a wide selection of bestsellers, new releases, children’s books, and a large digital catalog, where readers can search through a huge array of titles. The store also features a café, Wi-Fi, and a book machine, where customers can self-publish.

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