Independent and specialized bookstores live on in Greenwich Village, which is appropriate given the independent and even quirky vibe of the neighborhood. Bibliophiles could easily spend an entire day hopping from one store to the next—or simply browsing the shelves of just one or two of these stores.
2 West 14th Street (between 5th and 6th Avenues)
Namaste Bookshop. Image: Rich Mitchell/Flickr
As its name—and its lotus logo, and its Buddha statue—indicates, Namaste specializes in Eastern philosophies and lifestyles. But although its shelves include numerous books on yoga, meditation, tantras, reiki, and the like, it also sells books on Wiccan and Western philosophies. Nor is its inventory limited to books. The store prides itself on selling CDs of Eastern music not available anywhere else in the city. While you are here, you can also shop for crystals, salt lamps, candles, incense, jewelry, singing bowls, tarot cards, and statues ranging from the Hindu god Ganesh to the Egyptian god Thoth to the Christian Virgin Mary. Namaste hosts a packed calendar of events, classes, and psychic readings too. Start your morning with, say, a yoga class, follow it up with a tarot card reading or a reiki healing session, then wrap things up with a shamanic energy medicine session.
Broadway and East 12th Street
Strand Bookstore. Image: Beyond My Ken/Wikimedia
The word “institution” is bandied about a lot, but if any bookstore deserves the appellation, it is this one. Known to book-lovers as the Strand, it was founded in 1927 and holds roughly 2.5 million used, new, and rare books among its four floors. Its tagline declares that it offers 18 miles of books, and in fact you can buy “books by the foot”: The Strand will curate a custom library for you, whether you are searching for tomes by topic or want a color-coordinated collection to fill the empty shelves in your home. The dollar-book carts outside the store are always worth a look, and inside the Strand sells gifts, totes (the better to carry home all your books), and the like. Most evenings some sort of reading, book signing, or discussion will be taking place; Ken Follett, Adam Gopnick, Vanessa Grigoriadis, and Eileen Myles are among the authors scheduled for September.
80 East 11th Street, Suite 334 (between Broadway and University Place)
The Strand sells books about everything and anything; Fred Wilson Chess Books, less than two blocks away, sells new and classic books and videos exclusively about chess for kids and adults, beginners and masters alike. As well as a store owner and an author, Wilson is a teacher of chess, offering classes and private instruction for children and adults.
170 7th Avenue South (between Charles and Perry Streets)
This bookstore, which specializes in travel books and foreign-language classes, took its name from the original moniker of what is now JFK Airport. Idlewild sells an exhaustive range of guidebooks, but it also offers classic and modern-day travelogues, essays, memoirs, and novels you will be hard-pressed to find anywhere else. While a stop here is a must before your next trip abroad, armchair travelers will find plenty to transport them as well. The shop also offers seven-week French, German, Italian, and Spanish courses taught by native speakers, for beginner and advanced students alike.
154 West 10th Street (at Waverly Place)
Three Lives & Co. Image: Bex Walton/Flickr
Although a Gertrude Stein novel inspired the name of this independent bookstore, its curated shelves are not filled exclusively—or even primarily—with avant-garde titles. Whether your tastes run to Zadie Smith or Patti Smith, David Sedaris or Ina Garten, you will likely find a good read here. And if you do not, just ask one of the friendly, exceptionally well read staff for suggestions. The welcoming, unpretentious charm of Three Lives & Co., as much as its broad selection, is what has made the shop a hangout of so many Village residents.
266 Bleecker Street (between 6th and 7th Avenues)
Bookbook began in 1984 as the Biography Bookshop, but it has since expanded into a full-service bookstore, selling hardcover and paperback fiction, children’s books, cookbooks, art books, and just about every other type of book including biographies. Hardcovers and Moleskine journals are generally 20% off; bargain hunters will especially love poring through its selection of remainders in the sales carts that are both in front of and inside the shop.
206 Mercer Street (between Houston and Bleecker Streets)
Mercer Street Books & Records. Image: Eden, Janine and Jim/Flickr
While this shop does sell a smattering of new titles, it is primarily a purveyor (and buyer) of used books, vinyl, and vintage magazines. Back issues of Mad magazine can be found along with hardcover copies of Milton and Chaucer; catalogs from Christie’s and Sotheby’s are stacked not far from pulp ‘50s novels and ‘70s sci-fi. Even if you head inside bent on finding a specific title, there is a good chance you will leave carrying something you might not have even previously known existed.