Despite the ubiquity of chain bookstores and the convenience of ordering books online, there’s just something about small, specialty bookstores that we love. The staff is always very knowledgeable (imagine that!) and you know some actual thought went into stacking those shelves.
If the near-shuttering of Borders has taught us anything, it’s that big is not always better in the world of bookstores.
Here are five of our favorite specialty bookstores around Manhattan. Believe us, you won’t miss Amazon one bit.
Hue-Man Bookstore & Cafe
2319 Frederick Douglass Blvd., btwn 124th and 125th sts., 212-665-7400, huemanbookstore.com
A veritable Harlem institution, Hue-Man’s books focus on people of color, with a goal “to educate and inform and keep the legacy of a group of people who have contributed a great deal to history,” said owner Marva Allen. Books are divided into many categories, including “Rare Books,” “Art and Photography,” “Street Fiction” and more. The store is known for signings and readings, featuring intellectuals and entertainers alike. There always seems to be something going on; when we stopped by on a recent afternoon, “The Warmth of Other Suns,” author Isabel Wilkerson was doing an interview for NBC. Check out story hour on Saturdays if you have little ones.
Kitchen Arts and Letters
1435 Lexington Ave.,btwn 93rd and 94th sts., 212-876-5550, kitchenartsandletters.com
Nach Waxman, owner of Kitchen Arts & Letters, the premier culinary bookstore in NYC, stresses that his is not a cookbook store, but a store “with books about cooking. We have books about food and wine, food science, food and art, restaurant industry, memoirs” and more. The 27-year-old store is geared toward those who cook for a living or have a real passion for it — and it’s no coincidence that those are the kinds of people who work there, too. So if you’re just looking for the latest Rachael Ray cookbook, Waxman said, it may not be worth the trek (you can get that at any Barnes and Noble). But, if, say, you want to track down the best Italian cookbook, “we have five shelves of Italian cookbooks,” he said. “We've acquainted ourselves with all of them and we’ll try to make a match.”
33 Bond St., 212-387-8520, dashwoodbooks.com
Located on an impossibly hip block, this small, subterranean-level store has an impressive collection of contemporary photography books. According to owner David Strettell, most of his customers are photographers, photography book-collectors or art directors. Because many of his customers are photographers, Strettell organizes book-signing events about once a month. He also does some of his own publishing. “From big, expensive books to ’zines by local artists.”
Bank Street Bookstore
2879 Broadway, at 112th St., 212-678-1654, bankstreetbooks.com
This dual-level bookstore features titles for infants up to teens, so it’s a one-stop-shop for all the kids in your life. And even if you have no clue what to buy, the staff can help with age-appropriate recommendations. Because of its affiliation with Bank Street College of Education, there are books for teachers, books on education, educational (as well as not-so-educational) toys, plush and much more. In addition to its impressive inventory, the store draws families with its events. In March, there will be an interactive cooking event and a Purim celebration, both led by children’s book authors.
Partners & Crime Mystery Booksellers
44 Greenwich Ave., at Charles St., 212-243-0440, crimepays.com
This bookstore, just a few steps below street level, has something for lovers of all things mystery, thriller and espionage. But don’t expect the commercial airport-bookstore crime thrillers. The store tends to skew more niche than that. Not a die-hard mystery person? The well-read staff offers plenty of recommendations. There’s entertainment too: On the first Saturday of each month, a group of actors puts on a recreation of a 1940s mystery radio show (including new scripts for legendary radio program “The Shadow”).
The Complete Traveller Antiquarian Bookstore
199 Madison Ave., on 35th Street, 212-685-9007
Carries old and rare maps and books, with a focus on all things travel-related.
The Drama Book Shop
250 West 40th St., btwn Seventh and Eighth aves., 212-944-0595
Here the books focus on theater, film and performing arts. The shop has the widest selection of plays in the city, and possibly the country. There's also a theater in the basement.