Find Your Next Great Read at the Most Beloved Independent Bookstores in NYC
These indie bookstores across NYC can help you get a head start on your reading list this year.
While reading from a physical copy of a book is undeniably romantic, there’s more: Research suggests that we remember what we read in print better than what we read on a screen. So, although the world of e-readers and iPads offers convenience, flipping through actual pages isn’t something we can just be cast aside in the name of progress.
New York’s boroughs are dotted with independently run book stores, all staffed with knowledgeable crews ready to help you find your next great read. From world-famous spots touting multiple outposts to quaint haunts packed with new and rare finds, these beloved shops offer book lovers endearing ambiance, a sense of community, and a chance to disconnect from the daily technological circuit. Here are New York’s best independent bookstores.
Independent bookstores in Manhattan
Upper East Side
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.
The Argosy Book Store is the stuff of legend. The oldest independent bookshop in New York City (opened in 1925) is now in its third generation of family ownership, with a vast array of antique and out-of-print volumes, artistic prints, maps, and autographs spread out across six floors of its Midtown East home. It’s a treasure trove of history that feels part-bookstore and part-museum.
Lower East Side
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 and community space offers customers a variety of non-fiction, fiction, poetry, graphic novels, and zines.
Bonnie Slotnick Cookbooks is a NYC staple. Owner Bonnie Slotnick opened her eponymous shop in a tiny space in the West Village in 1997 before moving it to its current East Village location in 2015, where it’s known for an unrivaled inventory of more than 5,000 recipe books. On the shelves and in scattered stacks, customers can expect to discover rare and out-of-print cookbooks—some of which date back to the mid-1800s—dedicated to any and all conceivable cuisine.
Theater culture is an integral part of New York City. So, it’s fitting there’s an entire bookstore dedicated exclusively to theatrical works, with over 8,000 plays on offer. Founded by the Drama League in 1923, the current storefront on West 39th Street was designed by Hamilton set designer David Korins, who took his inspiration from 19th century European cafes.
Among the more well-known of NYC’s indie bookstores is McNally Jackson Books. With locations in SoHo, The Seaport, Rockefeller Center, Downtown Brooklyn, Williamsburg, and LaGuardia Airport, there’s an argument that they might be shifting outside of the independent bookstore territory, but there’s still a palpable small business charm to each outpost. Opened by Sarah McNally—who comes from a family of Canadian bookstore owners—McNally Jackson also operates a publishing house dubbed McNally Editions, which sheds light on lesser-known and forgotten books.
When you’re on the hunt for your next aesthetically pleasing coffee table book, this 58-year-old institution is your one-stop shop. The sole US outpost for the Rizzoli Publications group, this 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.
Just south of Union Square, avid readers can find the main location of the lauded, family-owned Strand Bookstore. Named after the London street where writers like Thackeray and Dickens once famously congregated, Strand has grown from a small mom-and-pop operation to a household name over the past century. At the storefronts in Union Square and on the Upper West Side, rifle through a wide range of new, used, and rare books ranging from geography and finance to science fiction and romance. Additionally, customers can sell their gently used books in store for cash or store credit.
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).
Independent bookstores in Brooklyn
Romance novels are having a moment—but we could make a case that they always are. A passion project from sisters Leah and Bea Koch, The Ripped Bodice first opened a storefront in LA, as a way to bring romance novels to a wider audience. Following their West Coast hit, the Koch sisters have now brought the bubblegum pink exterior to Brooklyn. Here, customers can peruse a range of romance novels separated into sub-genres like contemporary, LGBTQ+, science fiction, historical, and erotica.
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, customers will find that almost half of the titles on the shelves are written in Spanish. 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 Zoom.
Founded in 2017 by Brooklyn-based novelist Emma Straub (who’s well-known for her works like This Time Tomorrow and Other People We Married), Books Are Magic 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. Book 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.
There’s something so entirely Brooklyn about a bookstore hidden within a bodega. Signaled by bright yellow and pink sidewalk graffiti, customers will find exactly that nestled at the back of Green Discount on Green Street. With a specialty in secondhand science-fiction, mystery, and art paperbacks, Burnt Books is an oasis for those looking to reduce their carbon footprint.
Independent bookstores in Queens
Astoria Bookshop has recently moved from its original location into new digs and the bigger storefront is certainly worth a visit. After a stint in publishing, owner Lexi Beach was inspired to bring an independent bookstore to Queens in 2013. The queer- and woman-owned shop now pulls readers from all boroughs for its expansive literature selection and monthly storytime events.
Independent bookstores in The Bronx
As the self-proclaimed “official bookstore of Wakanda and the Bronx,” The Lit. Bar is one of the only brick-and-mortar bookstores serving the 1.4 million people of the Bronx. Owner and Bronx-native Noëlle Santos came up with the idea to open an indie bookstore with the community in mind when the borough's sole bookstore closed in 2016. Three years later, The Lit. Bar opened its doors, offering the area a bookstore, wine bar, and community center rolled into one. Pull up for reading and signing events or meander over for a solo date night and explore the vast literary categories from Queer & Dear to Bronx Tales.