By Gordon Hughes
It was about three years ago when I was visiting Marrakech… I was walking around the French Quarter and ran into a used bookstore/cafe. Now that was new to me. I had seen Brenton’s Book Store with coffee and soft drinks but I had never seen a French cafe with lattes, pastries and assorted sandwiches that also sold an array of international newspapers and used books from around the world. It got me to thinking about our West Village, especially after reading in the May issue of WestView News that BookBook was about to close down. I wondered how many bookstores there were in the West Village and just what they offered?
Now you may recall I did a column on West Village coffee shops and I got a lot of mail about the ones I missed.
It appears we West Village denizens are a sensitive lot. I don’t want to make another mistake. So let me say right here I welcome any and all bookshops I may have inadvertently missed. That said, by my count there are approximately nine book stores in our West Village if you don’t count BookBook—more about that later. So let me start out with The Strand at the corner of 13th St. and Broadway. It’s a bit of a stretch but it is south of 14th and just barely east of 5th and it is truly an amazing place. As they say, it’s “18 miles of books” and I believe it. When you walk in it takes you back to the last century, literally. Three stories, if you count the basement—and you really must.
The store covers everything—new releases, sports, classical books, music books, science books, serious reading and goofy reading. The staff is remarkable; they know everything, and if by some small chance they don’t, well, there are computers that do.
In all honesty when I walk out of The Strand with the yellow bag with the red lettering I really do have a bigger bounce in my step.
I live just off Perry Street very close to where all the young girls from all over the world get their photos taken in front of what they think is Carrie’s apartment from Sex In The City. Well, if you head east on Perry and cross West 4th and before you reach Waverly, on the north side is perhaps the newest bookstore in our neighborhood Left Bank Books. There you will find a collection of antique books, used books and special collectors editions.
After visiting there, walk a little further east to the corner of Perry and 7th on the south corner and walk into Idlewild bookstore. Well, that doesn’t quite tell the story. Idlewild sells books on language but also sells or has language lessons. It provides a unique service to our neighborhood in the era of globalization. Need I say more?
So that takes me to Bookmarc at the corner of Bleecker and 11th St.
You have to love the name as it would imply the books are high-end coffee table editions. Of course there are the Marilyn Monroe, Mick Jagger, James Dean and a variety of esoteric-themed photo books and a variety of those excellent photography themed tomes. There are also some remarkable photo essay books. Worth a look-see.
Now this is where I get a bit verklempt—it’s about Biography Books (most recently BookBook), which was where Bookmarc is now. For years it was my very favorite haunt in the Village. I mean hours could be spent looking at books just on the tables outside the store, let alone going in. Well for a variety of reasons they moved east on Bleecker to a location between 7th and 6th. As you probably read in last month’s edition of WestView News, they are going out of business. Well not totally going away, but they will have a very different business model. Look for them on Saturdays in Abingdon Square on market day. To me it is still sad, and is a loss. I asked them why the name change…they said they used to sell only bio books and when they moved they changed the name because they were selling a variety of books.
So that leads me to a new bookstore (at least to me new), Three Lives And Company at W. 10th and Waverly. This is a true gem. Just read the NYT’s Sunday Book Review and on Monday walk-in and on the table to your immediate right you will find the book you want. Amazing!
This is an adorable place with folks who are so helpful I just love going in there to not just buy a book but to talk about our neighborhood. Now if you want to go into Village history, hit Unoppresive Non-Imperial at 34 Carmine St. It is truly a throwback to a bygone era. You are surrounded by books that Liz Warren and AOC would devour. The man I spoke to said “there is a hint of a socialist bent here.” If Aldous Huxley or Bob Dylan are in your wheelhouse, get there quick. It’s a hoot. That takes me to another old Village spot, Irving Zucker Books on 11 St., between University and Broadway. Founded in 1942 it may very well be the oldest bookstore in the Village. Starting as a place for advertising arts and typographers, it has morphed into an artistes paradise.
So, that takes me back to my original question, is there a bookstore like the one I fell in love with in Marrakech? Sadly the answer is, not to the best of my knowledge. Now if you want to go south of Houston, there is Housing Work Bookstore and Cafe on Crosby St.
For me, it’s stay in the Village, grab a book or a copy of WestView News, sit on the bench outside Panino Mucho Gusto Cafe with a cup of java and a tasty pastry and pretend to be in Marrakech or maybe Paris or heck, the West Village.