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25 Best Independent Bookstores in NYC

In Guides, New York, See & Do by Guest AuthorLeave a Comment

This guide covers the best independent bookstores in NYC. Maybe it’s my long-standing devotion to Nora Ephron and the movie You’ve Got Mail, but I’ve always associated bookstores with New York City – the shots of Meg Ryan strolling down the street on a crisp fall day on her way to The Shop Around the Corner remain on a dreamy loop in my screen-addled brain.

And while it’s true that the threat of a Fox & Sons-style (and behemoth internet) chain bookseller takeover is as present here as it is anywhere, there is still a steady stronghold of incredible independent NYC bookstores adding to the vibrant literary culture of the city. After all, a city where so many unforgettable novels are set should have somewhere to buy them.

Our collection of the best bookstores in New York ranges from shops with massive stacks of new releases and evergreen favorites, to niche shops specializing in particular genres and authors, to shops with well-loved (and sustainable!) used and antique books.

An additional perk of the city’s bookstores is the geographical adjacency to exciting new writers and fan-favorite scribes alike – many shops host frequent book signings and talkbacks as well as community gatherings surrounding new works or locally relevant stories.

Some shops even have coffee and/or wine bars to tuck into as you read the day away, unbothered by the world outside or the possibility of Tom Hanks taking over the bookstore. 

Check out the best independent bookstores NYC has to offer by popping into one of the below for a quiet afternoon discovering your next favorite story!

About the Guest Author

Sarah Beling is a playwright, New Yorker, and passionate food enthusiast who is always looking for her next meal. You can find her in an NYC park, enjoying a chopped cheese sandwich and reading about NYC’s best new places to eat. 

Best Bookstores in New York

Albertine

Albertine-Bookstore-in-NYC

972 5th Ave – Upper East Side

Adjacent to the French Embassy in New York, Albertine is a famous NYC bookstore with a proprietary hold on the city’s French literature collection – there are over 14,000 classic and contemporary titles available in French and English.

In addition to their impressive inventory, Albertine boasts a truly stunning interior – housed on the Upper East Side within the Payne Whitney mansion, it was designed in 1902 by famous New York architect Stanford White (who was also behind the Washington Square Arch, and if you’re really in for the deep-dive, sordidly involved in The Crime of the Century).

The interior is now composed of warm, wood-paneled walls and shelves, plush leather couches, and a touch of celestial and astrological whimsy in its hand-painted mural of constellations, stars, and planets modeled after the ceiling of a music room in a German villa.

So whether your French skills are like mine (thank you Duolingo, I now know how to say “I love fries”) or you’re a passionate Francophile, the Albertine is among the essential bookstores in NYC. 

Books Are Magic

Books-are-Magic-bookstore-mural-in-Cobble-Hill-and-Carroll-Gardens-in-Brooklyn

225 Smith St, Cobble Hill

A Cobble Hill favorite and one of the best bookstores in Brooklyn, Books Are Magic is co-owned by married duo Emma Straub and Michael Fusco-Straub — Emma is New York Times-bestselling novelist herself, and frequently hosts fellow notable writers for book signings and speaking engagements.

Books Are Magic’s collection is thoughtfully curated and features staff picks across genres that are guaranteed to become repeat reads.

Young readers are also in luck at Books Are Magic as the shop has a notable inventory of children’s books and YA novels, encouraging everyone to expand their horizons with frequent-reader discount programs. So take the train to Bergen Street and be sure to check out Books Are Magic, one of the most charming and well-loved bookstores in NYC!

Greenlight Bookstore

reading-a-book-at-Greenlight-Bookstore-in-Fort-Greene-by-Katie-Hinkle

Prospect Lefferts Gardens: 632 Flatbush Ave & Fort Greene: 686 Fulton St

With two locations across Brooklyn in Prospect Lefferts Gardens and Fort Greene, both Greenlight outposts are among the finest independent bookstores NYC has to offer. Opened in 2009 by publishing alums Jessica Stockton Bagnulo and Rebecca Fitting, Greenlight Bookstore has since expanded to encompass two locations featuring stationery, audio and ebooks, as well as locally produced literary journals like the Voices of Lefferts: The Flatbush-PLG Community Writing Journal, a bi-annual compilation of writing and artwork featuring the narratives of the neighborhood community.

Greenlight also partners with notable and local arts organization BAM (Brooklyn Academy of Music, 30 Lafayette Ave) to create educational programming and reading lists from their season. Research one of their upcoming BAM productions with an afternoon at Greenlight, one of the best local bookstores in NYC. 

Powerhouse Books

powerhouse bookstore in Industry City in Sunset Park Brooklyn

Industry City location

DUMBO: 32 Adams St, Park Slope: 1111 8th Ave, Sunset Park: 220 36th St., Building #2 at Industry City

Powerhouse Books has several locations but one of the most popular is located in the heart of industrial DUMBO, Brooklyn, is known as one the best bookstores in New York for glossy photographic coffee-table books that are city-centric collections of culture, celebrity, fashion, and fine art.

Opened in 1995 by publisher Daniel Power, Powerhouse Books has grown to include children’s book imprints, the New York Photo Festival (an outdoor collection of innovative photography collections from a diverse set of artists, all housed in shipping containers on the DUMBO waterfront), and creative lab and showcase space Arena featuring exhibitions, readings, workshops, and performances all inspired by photography and popular culture.

Stop by Powerhouse to look through photographic books featuring some of NYC’s best views, then head to nearby Brooklyn Bridge to see them for yourself!

Word Up Community Bookshop

2113 Amsterdam Ave, Washington Heights

A mainstay in Washington Heights for over a decade, Word Up Community Bookshop is a beloved multilingual bookstore and arts space dedicated to preserving and building community and cultural exchange through books, educational programming, concerts, screenings, readings, and workshops in the neighborhood.

Founded in 2011 by Seven Stories Institute executive director Veronica Santiago Liu, Word Up is collectively run by over 60 uptown residents and features an expansive collection of new and used books for readers of all ages.

Word Up frequently partners with local school book fairs and hosts educational initiatives like the Lo’Mas Lit Book Club, Uptown Kid Lit program and the Environmental Afterschool summer program.

Speaking events highlight culturally relevant works, often by local authors (recent notable guests include Kianny N. Antigua, Angie Cruz, Lin-Manuel Miranda, and Quiara Alegría Hudes), in addition to regular community gatherings like the Black Magic Book Club, dedicated to studying and discussing Afrofuturism titles. Also adjacent to Word Up is the People’s Fridge, a community fridge and neighborhood project dedicated to making sure everyone has access to fresh and local foods (for more information, check out their Instagram!). So hop on the C train and be sure to visit Word Up, a neighborhood gem and one of the best bookstores in New York!

Shakespeare and Co.

Upper East Side: 939 Lexington Ave & Upper West Side: 2020 Broadway

Open since 1983, Shakespeare and Co. is a staple of the excellent independent bookstores NYC has to offer. With well-designed interiors and inviting cafés, both Shakespeare and Co. stores are ideal places to meet a friend to discuss your favorite novel or to sip a latte and read the latest new release.

In addition to selling a wide variety of literary genres, both Shakespeare and Co. locations feature a unique publishing program for writers to publish, print and sell their work using Espresso Book Machine Technology, which is able to produce on-site bookstore quality books from 70,000 in-copyright and public domain titles.

The Upper East Side location is near Hunter College and also features textbooks and school merchandise, while the Upper West Side location is an excellent place to hang out and read before catching a performance at nearby Lincoln Center!

Book Culture

Upper West Side: 536 W 112th St, 2915 Broadway, & Long Island City: 26-09 Jackson Ave

A longtime favorite of Columbia students and New Yorkers at large, Book Culture boasts a well-curated selection of fiction, nonfiction, and academic titles – their selection of previously owned textbooks are a particularly good deal for budget-conscious students and cements their status as one of the best used bookstores NYC has to offer.

In addition to programming and titles for college students, Book Culture locations host frequent storytime, music, and movement classes for younger readers.

An insider’s tip – if you’re a frequent visitor, sign up for Book Culture’s membership program for exclusive discounts and sales, free shipping on books ordered, and complimentary merch!

Sister’s Uptown Bookstore and Cultural Center

1942 Amsterdam Ave, Washington Heights

On New Year’s Day in the year 2000, Founder and President Janifer P. Wilson opened Sister’s Uptown, a bookstore and cultural center dedicated to celebrating African American authors and diverse voices with the motto, “Knowledge is Key”.

A beacon in the Harlem and Washington Heights communities for over twenty years, Sister’s Uptown is a Black-owned, family-run, treasured neighborhood hub to find exciting new releases in fiction and nonfiction alike as well as local artisan pop-up sales and guest author book signings (recent guest speakers include Marc W. Polite, Michelle Griffin Carter, and Judy C. Andrews).

Sister’s also produces a bi-weekly newsletter exchange of ideas and community resources. Adding to their community-focused business is the adjoining Peoples Peoples Fridge, another fantastic community fridge making sure that everyone uptown has access to fresh produce and prepared meals. 

Perrotin Bookstore

exterior-of-Perrotin-Bookstore-on-the-Lower-East-Side-in-NYC

130 Orchard St, Lower East Side

Housed in a distinctive brick building with painted signage that recalls an earlier era of the Lower East Side, Perrotin is a famous New York bookstore and art gallery specializing in limited edition art-focused books, printed posters, visual art, and apparel by noteworthy rotating creators.

In almost direct opposition to its antique exterior, Perrotin’s interior is a sleek, modern, brightly lit gallery of carefully curated and displayed items that is a treat just to walk through.

If you have someone in your life who is hard to shop for or is hard to impress, take them here. I guarantee they’ll walk away feeling like they got a look into one of the most unique bookstores in NYC. 

McNally Jackson Independent Booksellers

Original NoLita: 52 Prince St, Seaport: 4 Fulton St, Downtown Brooklyn: 445 Albee Square, Williamsburg: 76 N. 4th Street 

McNally Jackson (the original and all of its satellites) are beloved amongst independent NYC bookstores. Owned and operated by former book editor Sarah McNally, McNally Jackson features a variety of thoughtfully curated titles across genres housed in a soothing café atmosphere of local and organic food and drink.

McNally Jackson has also recently opened a publishing imprint focused on paperback editions of previously published (and sometimes previously out-of-print) works. McNally Jackson features frequent book signings, readings, and workshops, sometimes held in the verdant Elizabeth Street Community Garden nearby the NoLita location, as well as copious virtual events and workshops for out-of-towners.

It must also be said – for those out there who love to collect literary tote bags (you know who you are!!) McNally Jackson has exceptionally chic merch. 

The Lit Bar

131 Alexander Avenue, Mott Haven

After the closing of the only bookshop in the Bronx, founder Noëlle Santos sought to make sure the borough was still home to an independent bookstore – and thus on National Independent Bookstore Day in 2019, The Lit Bar was born.

A stylishly outfitted bookshop and wine bar interior with creatively themed title collections (some recents: “Bronx Tales”, “Dear White People”, “The Book Was Better”, and “Oprah Made Me Do It”), The Lit Bar has something for everyone to read, while specifically highlighting the diverse authorial voices of and stories of the Bronx.

The Lit Bar also has a vibrant programming schedule, with author talkbacks, workshops, and the Readers and Shakers book club available for those seeking out fellow nearby bookworms. 

Unnameable Books

Unnameable-Books-Independent-Book-store-in-Prospect-Heights-Brooklyn

600 Vanderbilt Ave, Prospect Heights

Prospect Heights’s Unnameable Books is one of the best-used bookstores NYC has to offer. An intimate shop with a cheery, vintage exterior, Unnameable is home to new releases and old editions alike, organized with a sly sense of humor and often posted without comment on their Instagram account.

Be sure to also check out Unnameable’s many events, like their monthly Feral Voices reading, focusing on writers outside of typical publishing institutions. Stop by nearby Prospect Park for an afternoon of reading after visiting one of the most unique and charming NYC bookstores!

Freebird Books and Culture

123 Columbia St, Cobble Hill

Located on the scenic Brooklyn waterfront, Freebird Books and Culture specializes in selling used books on New York historical and cultural moments.

Curated collections at Freebird feature titles about everything ranging from Harlem’s history as a Black Mecca to Hetty Green in the Gilded Age to Stonewall, and they frequently host author events and panel discussions on the impact of various cultural and historical moments in the city.

Freebird also runs the Books Through Bars volunteer collective, which serves to bring books to incarcerated people as well as host events and talkbacks with formerly incarcerated authors and readers.

Note that Freebird is only open on the weekends, so plan ahead before you visit one of the best used bookstores NYC has to offer.

Cafe Con Libros

Cafe-con-Libros-bookstore-in-Crown-Heights-Brooklyn

724 Prospect Pl, Crown Heights

Cafe Con Libros is a fantastic, woman of color owned, Intersectional Feminist community bookshop and coffee cafe in Crown Heights, Brooklyn.

In addition to selling a variety of genres and titles, Cafe Con Libros offers a monthly subscription membership of Feminist books and Irving Farm coffee, delivered to your door or available for pickup at their store location.

Other community events at Cafe Con Libros include a monthly Feminist Book Club and monthly Womxn of Color Book Club. Stuck in your apartment and craving a new read? Cafe Con Libros also offers a “Book Friend” service where you will receive a book of your choice delivered in 30 minutes  –  a delightfully personalized option that puts Cafe Con Libros among the best bookstores in New York!

Argosy Book Store

116 E 59th St, Upper East Side

On your odyssey of NYC bookstores, don’t miss out on Argosy, a massive, six-story collection of antique and out-of-print books. In its third-generation of family ownership, the Argosy Book Store specializes in Americana, first editions, antique maps, autographs, and scientific and medical history.

The Argosy has a storied history itself – beginning in 1925 with founder Louis Cohen’s decision to name the shop with an “A” so it would be first in the phonebook, to its present-day survival despite massive damage during Hurricane Sandy in 2013.

The cinematic, old-library interior of the 59th Street Argosy has been prominently featured in a wide variety of TV and films such as Law and Order, The Goldfinch, Person of Interest, and Can You Ever Forgive Me?. Wear your finest corduroy blazer and wander the stacks like you’re Lee Israel (minus the forgery!!). 

Astoria Bookshop

31-29 31st St, Astoria

Astoria Bookshop is a must-visit among NYC bookstores – open since 2013, this delightful bookseller features well-curated and organized themed collections like “Page to Screen”, “Indigenous and First Nations”, “New Age and Tarot”, “Jigsaw Puzzles” and “Astoria + Queens”.

Plentiful panel discussions and even cookbook virtual bake-a-longs are part of the thoughtful event programming at Astoria, which also features robust community partnerships with the LIC Reading Series (a community reading series celebrating writers and readers in Queens), Immigrant Families Together (an organization working to provide legal support and books for families separated at the border), Magnolia Pictures (Astoria receives exclusive programming in conjunction with literary-focused Magnolia films), The Rolling Library (an Astoria-based mobile book fair), and The Museum of the Moving Image (36-01 35th Ave, Queens).

The Museum of the Moving Image is just down the block from the store, so be sure to check it out after you visit one of the best independent bookstores NYC has to offer!

The Strand

inside-the-strand-bookstore-in-NYC

828 Broadway, Union Square

Standing tall in Union Square for over ninety years, The Strand is a venerable and extremely well-known New York bookstore.

Used both in the background of many films and television shows (Six Degrees of Separation, Julie & Julia), as well as the fictional setting for a variety of short stories and novels themselves, The Strand has a cinematic, Old-New-York quality.

It’s also known for its endless stacks of books, incredibly passionate booksellers, iconic tote bags, and of course, the sidewalk used book sales – a fantastic place to get a rare deal on previously loved books – you may even score a copy with someone’s notations in the margins, which I consider to be like having a jaunty, one-sided penpal!

The Mysterious Bookshop

58 Warren St, Tribeca

I LOVE CRIME! Ok, let me rephrase that – I LOVE READING ABOUT CRIME! Preferably fictional crime so that I don’t feel terrible about it!!! Does this also apply to you? Then come on down to The Mysterious Bookshop, a famous New York bookstore devoted specifically to mystery and crime novels.

Located in Tribeca and open six days a week, The Mysterious Bookshop has stacks upon stacks of crime novels ranging from Sherlock Holmes to the latest Gillian Flynn.

Do you bust through mystery novels and seek a new, unknown book to mysteriously (sorry, had to) show up on your doorstep each month? Check out Mysterious Bookshop’s comprehensive and themed subscription memberships – pick from categories to match your interests like The Thriller and Espionage Club, Hard Boiled and Noir Club, Psychological Suspense Club, or the Unclassifiable Club! So grab your magnifying glass and be sure to investigate one of the most unique bookstores in NYC. 

Books of Wonder

Original, Flatiron: 42 W 17th St & Upper West Side:  217 West 84th St

It’s cliché to look back on your youth with regret – but I truly wish I had further appreciated the simple joy of having dedicated time for reading as a kid. Foster that joy in your own children’s lives (or just relive it yourself!) by checking out Books of Wonder, a whimsical, young-reader-focused famous New York bookstore founded in 1980.

Books of Wonder features an extensive collection of children’s and YA novels and has specifically built-out collections of universes like the Wizard of Oz. Kids and parents enjoy weekly storytimes run by Books of Wonder every Saturday and Sunday morning as well as exclusive book signings and author book launch events from the latest YA writers.

Books of Wonder is also one of the best used bookstores NYC has to offer, with an exclusive collection of rare, out of print, and antique books available to give as a cherished heirloom gift. Lose yourself for an hour away from your email and rediscover the joy of reading at Books of Wonder! 

Turn The Page Again

39-15 Bell Blvd, Bayside

Located in Bayside, Queens, Turn the Page Again is one of the best used bookstores NYC has and a community-minded nonprofit dedicated to reducing the stigma of mental health challenges and making an inclusive literary community.

In addition to selling a wide variety of gently used titles, Turn the Page Again employs individuals with primary psychiatric diagnoses to provide job training and career support resources.

If you’d like to further support this mission-driven literary hub, Turn the Page Again accepts donations of used books in good condition!

Kew and Willow Books

81-63 Lefferts Blvd, Kew Gardens

Kew and Willow Books is a crowdfunded, woman-owned independent shop in Kew Gardens, Queens. Kew and Willow features titles across genres but specializes in intersectional feminsist-themed books as well as writers and stories featuring Kew Gardens, Forest Hills, and nearby Queens College professors and authors through their Off the Page: Queens College Reading series.

Another community-minded initiative is their book donation program, focused on gathering titles with LGBTQ+ characters to give to young readers in need. After your visit to one of the best independent bookstores NYC has to offer, check out nearby Forest Park for a verdant place to read!

Three Lives and Company

238 W 10th St, Greenwich Village

Open for more than forty years and a staple of Greenwich Village, Three Lives and Company is a famous New York bookstore with a charming, warm, and homey interior and a passionate staff of booksellers, some of whom have worked at the store for decades.

Frequent readings in an intimate setting are another bonus of Three Lives, where visiting itself can feel like a scene out of a novel (fun fact, the shop was referenced in “The Hours”).

Three Lives and Company is the perfect place to spend a wintry afternoon browsing for a novel before popping next door to L’Artusi (228 W 10th St) to sit at the bar with a glass of wine in one hand and a book in the other. 

The Drama Book Shop

266 W 39th St, Midtown

True to its name, The Drama Book Shop has been through its fair share of ups and downs. Founded by the Drama League in 1917, this unique gem among NYC bookstores became a longtime favorite for actors, playwrights, and theatre fans alike, boasting an inventory of over 8,000 plays.

Also the host to frequent workshop and lab readings of new works, The Drama Book Shop was well-known as an incubator for many high-profile shows – most notably, for an early version of the Tony Award-winning musical “In the Heights”.

The store itself won a Tony Award Honor for Excellence in Theatre in 2011 and had several more successful years before it briefly went out of business.

Luckily, like any great show, The Drama Book Shop was given a second act and was purchased by “In The Heights” creators Lin-Manuel Miranda and Thomas Kail, who had used the bookshop theater for their workshop all those years ago. The bookshop is now reopened in a new location but restored to its former glory as a beacon of artistic joy. 

Unoppressive Non-Imperialist Bargain Books

34 Carmine St, Greenwich Village

Let’s talk about straightforward marketing – if you’re seeking Unoppressive Non-Imperialist Bargain Books, then head directly to Carmine Street to visit this Greenwich Village stalwart specializing in politically and philosophically themed titles for over thirty years. In addition to their packed inventory of new and used titles, the store hosts readings and community gatherings like the “Unoppressive Non-Imperialist Comedy Show”, free of oppressive ticket fees!!

Unoppressive also shares its space with a comic book store, so you can get your fill of visual and graphic novels as well – so if you’re looking for a spot that is truly unparalleled in its identity amongst NYC bookstores, check out Unoppressive Non-Imperialist Bargain Books. I’ll be there reading “Escaping Capitalism”!

Avoid the Day Bookstore and Cafe

99-4 A Rockaway Beach Blvd, Rockaways

Is there any better way to avoid the day than to read a book on the beach? Say that you’ve made it all the way out to Rockaway Beach, Queens, and realized that you’re without something to read – luckily for you, there is a fantastic shop (appropriately named!) for all your literary relaxation needs.

Founders Jianna and Jason Heuer opened Avoid the Day Bookstore and Cafe in 2017 after a text conversation between them corrected “Have a good day!” to “Avoid. The day” and it struck them as the perfect sentiment for their yet-unnamed bookstore.

In addition to carrying a wide variety of titles, Avoid the Day houses a coffee and wine bar to complement your reading and hosts events with local Rockaway authors and the community alike — Avoid the Day even offers space rentals for book clubs and writers workshops! So pack your suit and your reading sunglasses, and catch a wave to one of the best bookstores in New York. 

Take a day, empty your tote for those To-Be-Reads, and explore the best bookstores in NYC across every neighborhood! 


Did we miss your favorite independent bookstore in NYC? Let us know in the comments below!

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