Before the pandemic, the survival of independent bookstores — and books in general — was in jeopardy. When COVID hit, shipping delays and lockdowns seemed to foretell the end for bookstores.
Like a well-crafted plot twist, however, the pandemic ushered in a resurgence of bookshop love instead. Book sales jumped, and people became invested in shopping local again. “The way we read and consume and live has changed during COVID,” says Eileen Dengler, executive director of the New Atlantic Independent Booksellers Association (NAIBA), a nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting bookshops in the region.
Membership has bloomed in the past two years, and while there have been some store closures, like Huntington’s well-loved Book Revue, a fresh crop of new bookshops is bringing new life to many small towns on the island.
“Owning a bookshop is extremely tough,” Dengler says. “But it is also absolutely magical.”
Here are four new bookshops to check out on the island:
17 Audrey Ave., Oyster Bay
When former congressman Steve Israel first looked at the space that now houses his shop, Oyster Bay’s Main Street was dotted with vacancies. By the time he returned a few months later to sign the lease, it was the last available spot in town. “If there is one silver lining to the pandemic,” Israel says, “it’s that small town Main Streets came alive again.”
Theodore’s, which opened in November, is named for Oyster Bay’s most famous resident, former President Theodore Roosevelt, and boasts a strong selection of presidential biographies and political nonfiction. The shop’s contemporary literature collection is equally impressive: bestselling fiction, memoirs and classics can be found and a kids section is nestled in the back, complete with a child-sized seating area and plush teddy bears. “My grandson thinks this all belongs to him,” Israel says.
The store hosts book clubs, kids’ activities and author events like the one with actor Ralph Macchio pegged to his memoir at the Madison Theatre in Rockville Centre on Oct 17.
Many former Book Revue staffers found refuge here, and Israel, a novelist himself, can also be found most days tidying the shelves. “Even during my days in Congress,” Israel says, ”books were my true love.”
A Book Place
469 E. Main St.
Jocelyn Maningo Kaleita, a second-generation librarian from East Moriches, dreamed of owning a bookshop for years. When the owner of waterfront eatery Jerry and the Mermaid suggested the shop next door, Kaleita knew it was perfect. A hallway connects the restaurant and the bookshop and patrons searching for the bathroom sometimes stumble into the room of books. “One popped in the other day and was amazed,” Kaleita says. “He said it felt like walking into Narnia!”
Along with a mix of children’s and adult titles, the store boasts a section featuring books about books, and she plans to support self-published authors from nearby towns. “I envision this store being as local as we can get,” Kaleita says.
The Dogeared Bard's Bookshop
250 Larkfield Rd.
Poet and small press publisher James Wagner has run poetry readings and book launches across the island for more than a dozen years. During the pandemic, many of the cafes and event spaces that hosted these events closed down. “I’d wanted to have a place for quite a while, a permanent location for poets to call their own,” Wagner, a Northport resident, says. “During COVID, half the shops were vacant. I found this place and fell in love.”
The shop’s name is inspired by Wagner’s poetry collective, The Bards, and by a bookshop called The Dogeared that used to be located in town. Wagner’s shop features used and antiquarian books, from science fiction and fantasy to mystery and memoir, with tables devoted to local poets. The former nail salon also features a stage for poetry readings and open mic nights.
In October, the shop celebrates its first anniversary. “We’re planning a weeklong extravaganza sale,” says Wagner. “We’re ready to celebrate!”
The Next Chapter
187 Park Ave, Huntington (move to 204 New York Ave. scheduled in November)
When Book Revue, the Huntington bookstore where Mallory Braun had worked for five years, closed last summer, no one could have dreamed up this fairy tale ending: after leading a hugely successful Kickstarter-supported effort, Braun secured a spot a few doors down from Book Revue for her new shop, The Next Chapter.
Braun hopes to have the new location up and running by November. During September, she is running a pop-up bookshop in a cottage on Huntington Harbor. Braun plans to keep the pop-ups going around the island even after The Next Chapter’s permanent home opens.
“Book Revue was around for 44 years and left a huge chasm in the bookstore landscape of Long Island. People have been working from home for a few years now and are realizing the importance of getting involved in your community,” says Braun. “And there is no better place to find community than your local bookstore.”