Go beyond New York City’s most famous bookstores to find some of the coolest independent bookshops that support local communities and help us diversify our bookshelves.
Shopping for books is one of the best things in life. There’s something about wandering amongst shelves, browsing through colourful covers and inventive titles, and knowing that, eventually, either by accident or by design, you’re going to walk away with a pile of new thoughts and ideas that you get to keep forever.
Dotted amongst the big chains, tucked cosily away in various corners, are a multitude of independently owned and operated bookstores offering a celebration of diversity, creativity, progressive thinking and community spirit.
The book culture in New York is palpable and apart from those famous bookstores in NYC that we all head to, there are some incredible independent and wonderfully diverse bookstores across NYC that need to be explored.
There’s something literally (and literary) here for everyone. We’ve also covered some other great bookstores in Brooklyn for anyone perusing exclusively over the river,
131 Alexander Ave, The Bronx, NY 10454
The Lit. Bar is a cosy bookstore and wine bar nestled in a corner of South Bronx, and is the only operating independent bookstore in their borough. African American and Puerto Rican owner Noëlle Santos has created a haven for book lovers and those who wish to get comfortable and discuss their favourite literature over a glass of wine.
The shop has dedicated sections to Black Feminist authors, local Bronx authors, and a children’s section showcasing inspirational books for children of colour. As an added bonus, there’s also some excellent street art on the walls, both inside and out.
This is one of our favourite black-owned bookstores in NYC, and it needs to be on your itinerary.
39-15 Bell Blvd, Bayside, NY 11361
The book-to-shop-space ratio here is impressive! Turn the Page…Again! was designed for “individuals with a mental health diagnosis” and runs as a not-for-profit organisation operated by Transitional Services for New York Inc. (TSINY). Turn the Page…Again only hires people with disabilities, focusing on those with mental health diagnoses adjust to working life.
It’s been up and running since 2010, and stocks a huge selection of secondhand books across pretty much every genre. All the books they resell are in good to excellent condition, and due to the nature of secondhand book acquisition, their stock changes daily!
It’s an excellent place to introduce yourself to new literature, as you never know what they’ll have, shop for some used books in NYC, and all the proceeds go to a good cause.
Read More: Mental Health: 7 Books that May Help
They’re currently relocating but you can still shop online.
This collectively owned, volunteer-run outfit has been operating for over twenty years in the Lower East Side of Manhattan, and was founded originally as a community centre, bookstore and venue for women.
Since saving it from financial difficulty in the early 2000s, the six-person collective that owns Bluestockings has aimed to create a space that welcomes and empowers all people.
There are book sections here on anarchism and political theory, queer and gender studies, as well as regular workshops devoted to feminism and social activism (with fair trade coffee and pastries available as well).
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1942 Amsterdam Ave, New York, NY 10032
This family-run independent bookstore in Harlem, started in 2000 by owner Janifer P. Wilson, has a motto: “Knowledge of Self is the Key to Understanding”. With this in mind, the Wilson family has created a hub of cultural understanding and education, as the Sister’s Uptown Bookstore operates as a community resource centre in addition to selling books.
The store specialises in past and present works of African American authors, and holds regular events to celebrate them, including book signings and poetry readings. As you peruse the shelves, make sure to grab a piece of vegan cake from the juice bar!
2113 Amsterdam Ave, New York, NY 10032
What began as a one-month pop-up shop in 2011 has grown into a thriving community-focussed success. The Word Up Community Bookshop is a volunteer-run not-for-profit organisation that stocks general interest books in a multitude of languages.
Located in the Washington Heights area of northern Manhattan, the store is run by a large, highly diverse group of volunteers, and features frequent live shows, including readings, concerts, screenings, talks and workshops, art exhibitions and open mic evenings for anyone who wishes to participate.
13 – 17 Elizabeth St 2nd floor, New York, NY 10013
This spacious cultural centre and bookstore has operated in the middle of Chinatown in Manhattan for over 40 years. Many of the books here are in their original Chinese, both simplified and traditional, and the collection has been gathered from China, Taiwan, Hong Kong and beyond.
Visitors looking to learn about Oriental Culture also have the opportunity to engage in physical activities, as there are regular classes on calligraphy and classical Chinese painting. Oriental Culture Enterprises also stocks supplies for these pastimes, as well as full artworks, Chinese wedding decorations, children’s games and even musical instruments.
Read More: 10 Incredible Chinese Novels in Translation
724 Prospect Pl, Brooklyn, NY 11216
Cafe Con Libros in Brooklyn offers “a vibrant community space where everyone, specifically female identified folx, feel centered, affirmed and celebrated”. This bookstore, founded by Kalima DeSuze, stocks all manner of stories by, for and about womxn and girls of all identities, with positive messages of Feminism for anyone looking for a cosy, wood-panelled place to relax with a good book (and a tasty hot beverage).
Cafe Con Libros also offers a Feminist & Bookish Monthly Subscription, where you can receive books from categories including Feminism, Women of Colour and Feminist children’s books for younger readers.
323 Linden St, Brooklyn, NY 11237
Mil Mundos was created as a direct response to the gentrification approaching the neighbourhood of Bushwick, Brooklyn. Founder Maria Herron wanted to preserve the community and chose Mil Mundos as her holding ground.
Here, she and her staff foster a community-based environment that celebrates Black, Latinx and Indigenous heritage. In addition to this, nearly 50% of the titles available at Mil Mundos are in Spanish, making it the first bilingual bookstore in Brooklyn.
Spanish classes are also available for those wanting to brush up on their language skills or start completely from scratch.
81-63 Lefferts Blvd, Kew Gardens, NY 11415
This cosy literary den was started in order to address the lack of bookstores in the Queens area. The brainchild of Vina Castillo and Holly Nikodem, the store got its name from a combination of its location (Kew Gardens) and a tree to symbolise their supporters in the neighbourhood where the pair met (Forest Hills).
Kew & Willow, I am very pleased to say, has a vast children’s section, and strong effort is put into showcasing books that represent marginalised voices. As well as books, there’s also all sorts of art and crafts from many local artists and creators available to buy.
Read More: 11 Amazing Books by Women in Translation
35 W 32nd St, New York, NY 10001
Looking for any and all things Korean? Koryo Books should be top of your list. This Midtown Manhattan bookstore has been providing patrons with Korean-language translations of books both classic and modern for over 30 years.
And they don’t just sell books – Koryo Books’ other speciality is K-Pop music, and they (understandably) have a huge selection of albums available, from EXO to Wonder Girls (and, of course, BTS).
There’s also a huge array of other Korean merchandise, such as cosmetics, posters, t-shirts and hats, stationery, pins … basically, if you can think of it, and you want it Korean, you can find it here.
Read More: 10 Must-Read Korean Books in Translation