New York’s independent bookshops were supposed to be long gone by now. After a decade of slow financial strangulation at the hands of the big-box stores, the web, the Kindle, and, finally, the recession, the fact that there are still Strands and McNally Jacksons standing seems positively miraculous. And while recent years have seen the shuttering of such well-loved stores as Gotham Book Mart and Madison Avenue Bookshop, we are suddenly, unexpectedly in the midst of an indie-bookstore renaissance. The past year alone has seen the arrival of Fort Greene’s instantly beloved Greenlight Bookstore, Williamsburg’s Book Thug Nation, Dyker Heights’s Boulevard Books, and Mast on the Lower East Side, among others (see the full lineup here).
Contributing to the resurgence is the local-is-better ethos, which has bled over from the culinary and fashion worlds, causing readers to crave a more human-scale shopping experience. And the specter of a world without indie bookshops has inspired a new, perhaps quixotic generation of entrepreneurs to jump in. The new booksellers bring a modern approach to the business: In place of the dusty riots of yore are more curated, well-lit shops that emphasize personal service and community—book clubs, readings, charity projects, and even the occasional lit-geek basketball league.