Some Surprising Good News: Bookstores Are Booming and Becoming More Diverse

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NYC used to be a book lover’s heaven. So many movies set in New York during the 50s, 60s, 70s, and even into the 80s have at least one scene set in a bookshop (Think: Funny Face, Hannah and Her Sisters, Greetings, Manhattan, Crossing Delancey, When Harry Met Sally, Ghostbusters II — and then there’s Nora Ephron’s delightful You’ve Got Mail, which centers on a small bookstore being driven out of business in 90s New York).

Browsing and buying books was a merely a part of daily life back then, and still is for a small but mighty contingent, even as we’ve seen bookstores close their doors over the years. It’s not exactly a mystifying phenomenon; enter rising rents, Amazon, ebooks. The figures are still striking when quantified (via The Guardian):

Like payphones, typewriter repair shops and middle-class housing, bookstores are a vanishing presence in New York City. In 1950, Manhattan had 386 bookstores, according to Gothamist; by 2015, the number was down to 106. Now, according to a count by the city’s best-known bookstore, the Strand, there are fewer than 80. Book Row, a stretch of Fourth Avenue between Union Square and Astor Place that once housed almost 50 used and antiquarian bookstores, now claims just one: Alabaster Bookshop at Fourth Avenue and 12th Street. (Plus the Strand, which relocated a block away in 1957.)

The last couple of years, since Covid first hit New York, trends across commercial sectors have gone a little haywire; some trends have accelerated while others have been upended, and in some cases have even reversed. For example, we are seeing new life being breathed into NYC’s bookstore landscape. The NY Times reports:

People told Lucy Yu it was a crazy time to open a bookstore in Chinatown. It was early 2021, and the pandemic had devastated the neighborhood, forcing dozens of stores and restaurants to close. The rise of anti-Asian hate crimes had shaken residents and local business owners.

But Ms. Yu believed that a bookstore was just what the neighborhood needed.

She raised around $20,000 on GoFundMe, enough to rent a narrow storefront — a former funeral supply store — on Mulberry Street in downtown Manhattan. A neighborhood grant gave her $2,000 for shelves and books. And in December, she opened Yu and Me Books, which specializes in titles by and about immigrants and people of color.

This isn’t just happening in New York either — the trend is national! And, we are seeing new bookstores operated by much more diverse individuals, who are elevating voices not always given the chance to shine in the older, more traditionally stocked shops of the past. Read more from the NY Times.

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