Bookstores in the Boroughs: Four Spots to Shop Instead of Amazon
It’s no secret that New York City is an expensive place to live, and the gap between high and low income families is only growing. That’s why on November 13th, when Amazon announced it would be building its second headquarters in Long Island City, Queens, some residents approached the news with caution. While the creation of 40,000+ new jobs seems like a positive change, citizens and leaders are concerned that estimate pertains mainly to white-collar jobs, which could exclude existing residents, primarily people of color, resulting in resident displacement, faster gentrification, the closing of independent businesses, and inflation, just to skim the surface.
With this in mind, one thing we can do on the individual level is to support the small businesses already striving and thriving in our communities; this includes our favorite, bookstores! While the convenience of buying books on Amazon might be tempting, nothing beats the particular smell of a bookshop, booksellers’ personalized recommendations, and the fun of browsing through physical copies. If you need more hope, data has shown that independent bookstores are making a huge comeback in the economy.
In attempt to support our community here in New York, we are putting the spotlight on some of our favorite bookstores in Long Island City’s radius, just in time for your last-minute holiday shopping. (Plus, no shipping stress!)
Kew & Willow Books
Kew & Willow Books is a little nook of a bookstore in lovely, residential Kew Gardens and is accessible by the E and F trains or the Q10 bus. Tucked snugly between a realty office and a wig studio, what Kew & Willow lacks in size it makes up for in character. This intimate space has a quite homey feel to it from the soft string lights, exposed brick, fireplace, and potted plants. Not only does this bookstore boast a well-curated selection of books, it also maintains a very active events calendar. For the adult crowd there is a Kew & Willow book club that meets regularly, there are themed events such as True Crime night, as well as readings and author meetings at which wine and cheese are provided. For their younger patrons, Kew & Willow hosts storybook readings, picturebook presentations, and puppet shows. Each of these elements combine to give this eclectic neighborhood bookstore a warm and friendly personality.
- James Quigley
“Bookstores everywhere, and local, authentic businesses bring a sense of place and a sense of community wherever they are. Our bookstore there [Long Island City] is exceptionally welcoming and beautiful so it exceeds at providing a destination for browsers and families.” -Chris Doeblin, Founder of Book Culture.
Book Culture is a small, local chain of four bookstores located in New York City. Their most recent location opened one year ago, at 26-09 Jackson Ave in Long Island City. Book Culture was founded by Labyrinth Books in 1997 but became independent through owner Chris Doeblin in the Summer of 2007. This bookstore is all about diversity in the books, which is a great reflection of Queens. Their books range from children’s to academia to adult. Book Culture cares about holding onto the history of the village of the Upper West Side and the literary scene. Book Culture is not just books, either— (don’t worry, it’s not corporate). They also sell merchandise like tote bags and wonderful literary tee’s.
I got a chance to speak with the founder, Chris Doeblin, about how Book Culture is pertinent in their community. Chris stated, “We are open early and late and animate the streetscape. We think Book Culture LIC is a special place as special places go. In a very new community that is rising up from the ground day by day this is especially important. Unlike ebook sellers like Amazon, we don't get cash from the city and state for opening our store. But we do give back. And we want to give back, because that is what people who are part of a community do.”
Topos Bookstore Cafe
Topos Bookstore is in Ridgewood, Queens, a beautiful neighborhood just north of Brooklyn's Bushwick neighborhood. Myrtle Avenue, running East to West, serves as the neighborhood's main strip, a bustling intersection full of shops and cafes. A predominantly latino neighborhood, the wave of gentrification which has already affected the surrounding areas of Williamsburg and Bushwick, has begun to creep its fingers into Ridgewood. According to Ridgewood Social, the building Topos currently occupies was originally a Butcher shop at the turn of the 20th century. Some time in the 70's it became a bodega before that shuttered in the mid 80's, leaving the space completely abandoned until 2015, when the 1882 Woodbine crew (a self-styled "experimental hub" offering, among other things, CSA membership to a "biodynamic draft-horse powered farm) bought the space. The space as it stands now, is a warm bookstore offering both a classic selection, as well as a lively assortment of esoteric hand-picked items by staff members. They also serve coffee drinks and gluten-free baked goods, with modest indoor and outdoor seating. One of its more charming signatures is the recurring theme of Cheshire Cat-like illustrations throughout the store, as well as other eccentric and genuinely interesting curios arranged around the place, including an antique Tintin cookie tin used as a tip jar. Come check it out for a great afternoon in Ridgewood. Walking down Myrtle Avenue is not complete with at least a quick stop-in at Topos to see what's new.
- James Davis
Tucked just a few blocks west of Queens, right off of the Metropolitan Ave G stop, is the Brooklyn storefront of Quimby’s. Quimby’s is self-described as “an independently owned bookstore that sells independently-published and small press books, comics, zines and ephemera. We favor the unusual, the aberrant, the saucy and the lowbrow.” Steven Svymbersky opened the first Quimby’s in Chicago on September 15th, 1991, and nearly 25 years later, he opened the New York location. You can read more about its beginnings here.
Quimby’s charm is not limited to the taxidermy, plants, photos and prints lining the shelves—writers, artists, and creatives can consign their work in-person or remotely, which allows shoppers to directly support these independent publishers. In doing so, Quimby’s sacrifices a large profit-margin, or any, and focuses instead on providing a space for the community to share work, gather, and support one another. Quimby’s also champions marginalized subject matter, meaning whatever niche topic tickles your fancy, be it witchcraft, Mr. Rogers, the state of punk culture, rug-weaving, butchery, or the art of donut fluffiness (see issue 3 of Snot Rocket City), Quimby’s has you covered.
While Quimby’s might not be the stop for your Nicholas Sparks fix, the fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and magazine selections are curated to offer you familiar names such as Audre Lorde and George Saunders, while also providing a wide array of oddities you might not come across otherwise, making this the perfect spot for anyone with reader’s-block. Founder Steven Svymbersky states, "I really want to carry every cool-bizarre-strange-dope-queer-surreal-weird publication ever written and published, and in time, Quimby's will. Because I know you're out there and you just want something else, something other, something you never even knew could exist." (NewCity) Beat that, Amazon.