Find Your Next Read at These Independent Bookstores in NYC
Because, let’s be real, a physical copy remains unmatched.
There’s an undeniable romance to picking up a physical copy of a book and settling into a cozy spot for a good read. So, although we live in the age of e-readers and power-scrolling on our phones, there’s a permanent place in our hearts for the charming crew of independently run bookstores scattered across NYC.
From world-famous spots touting multiple outposts like The Strand and McNally Jackson Books to quaint haunts packed with new and rare finds like Word Up and The Drama Bookshop, these beloved shops offer book lovers endearing ambiance, a sense of community, and a chance to disconnect from the daily technological circuit. Come along with us as we opt for a small business experience, here’s our roundup of the best independent bookstores in New York City.
Yu & Me Books
In stark contrast to the hustle and bustle of the neighborhood right outside its front door, here, Yu & Me Books’ walls covered in dark wooden bookshelves and twinkling fairy lights create a welcoming oasis for book lovers. Opened by Lucy Yu, a chemical engineer by trade, in December 2021, this shop serves as a haven for Asian storytelling and immigrant narratives. Thought to be one of the first (if not the first) Asian-American, woman-owned bookstore in NYC’s Chinatown, “the bookstore is designed with the goals of building a center for the community and creating a space for conversation,” says Yu. There are swaths of fiction, non-fiction, poetry, graphic novels, and works sourced from the Asian American Writers’ Workshop, as well as a rotating selection of local art for sale.
The Lit. Bar
As the self-proclaimed “official bookstore of Wakanda and the Bronx,” The Lit. Bar still shares the title as the one of the only brick-and-mortar bookstores serving the 1.4 million people and 10 colleges of the Bronx. An impassioned project from owner and Bronx-native Noëlle Santos, the concept behind her business came about when the borough’s only bookstore (a Barnes & Noble outpost) closed in 2016. Three years later on April 17, 2019 (on National Indie Bookstore Day), The Lit. Bar opened its doors, offering the area a bookstore, wine bar, and community center rolled into one. Pull up throughout the month for reading/signing events or meander over for a solo date night and explore the vast literary categories from Queer & Dear to Oprah Made Me Do It.
For founder Maria Herron, the opening of Mil Mundos in 2018 was a way to preserve the culturally rich community of Bushwick against the reaches of recent gentrification. Making history as the first bilingual bookstore in Brooklyn and currently the only bookstore in the neighborhood east of Myrtle Avenue, customers will find that almost half of the titles on the shelves are written in Spanish. In addition, Herron and her team provide a bevy of literature, illustrated books, and poetry that celebrates Black, Latinx, and Indigenous heritage. Also, for those wishing to learn a second language, Mil Mundos hosts personalized six-week-long Spanish courses via teleconference.
Residing within the historic Payne Whitney Mansion and opened by the French Embassy’s Cultural Services, Albertine Books touts a grand collection of published works in French and English with more than 14,000 contemporary and classic titles sourced from dozens of French-speaking countries. With gorgeous hand-painted ceilings depicting constellations, stars, and planets; loads of historical paintings and busts; and groups of leather club chairs and loveseats, it’s truly an idyllic Upper East Side gem primed for rainy days and loaded with unique finds. Check out the schedule online for upcoming literary debates and The Albertine Book Club meetups.
Argosy Book Store
The Argosy Book Store is the stuff of legend. The oldest independent bookshop in New York City (opened in 1925) and now in its third generation of family ownership, a vast array of antique and out-of-print volumes; artistic prints; maps; and autographs is spread out across six floors of its Midtown East home. A treasure trove of history, Argosy has created an atmosphere of part-bookstore, part-museum.
True to its longheld mission, Bluestockings is a volunteer-run, collectively owned bookstore, powered by feminism, community solidarity, and progressive justice. The store’s name is derived from the groundbreaking 18th-century English collective called "The Blue Stocking Society,” which was established to promote literature written for and by women. Now, since opening in 1999, the bookstore, fair-trade cafe, and community space has paid homage to those very ladies, while providing a safe space for those who “share the principles of intersectional, abolitionist, trans-affirming, gender nonconforming, and sex-worker affirming feminisms.” The Lower East Side standby also hosts screenings, discussions, and speaking events on most nights of the week (check out the full schedule), in addition to carrying over 6,000 books, journals, and magazines.
Bonnie Slotnick Cookbooks
With 25 years under its belt, Bonnie Slotnick Cookbooks is an undeniable NYC staple. First opened out of a tiny West Village space in 1997 by owner Bonnie Slotnick, the eponymous shop is known for its unrivaled inventory of more than 5,000 recipe books and has been operating out of its current East Village location since 2015. On the shelves and in scattered stacks, customers can expect to discover rare and out-of-print cookbooks dedicated to any and all conceivable cuisine, some of which date back to the mid-1800s.
Books Are Magic
When Cobble Hill’s only independent bookstore and longtime gold mine of great reads, BookCourt, shut its doors in 2017, the idea for Books Are Magic came to life. Founded by the Brooklyn-based novelist, Emma Straub (who’s well-known for her works like This Time Tomorrow and Other People We Married), Books Are Magic filled the hole that its predecessor left behind and quickly established itself as a bright and comfortable space jam-packed with a robust selection of poetry, graphic novels, autobiographies, science-fiction, romance, and more. Books and merch purchases can be made online, plus a range of intimate author Q&As and book release events can be found via the website.
When you’re on the hunt for your next aesthetically pleasing coffee table book, the 58-year-old institution, Rizzoli Bookstore, is your one stop shop. The sole US outpost for the Rizzoli Publications group, this expansive and mahogany covered townhouse-turned-store boasts an impressive array of illustrated books featuring architecture, interior design, fashion, photographer, art, and more. In addition, recent best-selling novels, classic literature, and foreign language books are available.
Three Lives & Company
Named for a Gertrude Stein novel, this red-brick corner bookstore in the West Village is every bit as humble and whimsical as it was at its inception in 1968. The volumes stacked within the space have little to no visible organization to them—and that’s half the fun. For the team at Three Lives & Company, it’s key for customers to stumble upon titles serendipitously, through the process of wandering (though, if you’re looking for something specific, the well-informed staff can quickly find any work among the deliberate chaos).