Several of the world’s most prolific literary legends have called New York City home, including Langston Hughes, James Baldwin, Dorothy Parke, Truman Capote, Toni Morrison, and Edmund White, as well as some of the world’s most renowned publishing houses. Unsurprisingly, NYC has a plethora of fantastic, must-visit bookstores, including several of those companies’ flagships!
These outlets don’t simply cater to literary fans, from well-known names like Barnes & Noble to secondhand shops and independent neighborhood favorites like Brooklyn’s WORD or Queens’ Astoria Bookshop. Photography, art, design, comics and graphic novels, LGBTQ+ and BIPOC works, mystery, feminism, eclectic self-published tomes and zines, and rare tomes are just a few of the specialties. Guest author signings, panels, spoken word events, and community mixers are all held at these locations. A number of them even offer on-site eateries!
Here are some of our favorite bookstores in New York City to visit.
1. Strand Bookstore
Founded in 1927, the Strand in New York City’s largest and most well-known independent and family-owned bookstore, with an estimated 18-mile inventory. The Strand, like Powell’s in Portland, Oregon, sells a mix of new and used books (treasures await in the stacks! ), including many out-of-print and bargain-priced volumes (there’s a level dedicated to rare, antique and first editions), as well as Strand-branded T-shirts and merchandise. Strand will open a new, boutique-style shop on Columbus Avenue on the Upper West Side in July 2020, so add even more kilometers of books to their inventory – and browsing time to your itinerary.
2. Forbidden Planet
This first and only USA sibling to London’s flagship store for all things relating to sci-fi, horror, and comic books, located only a few storefronts from Strand, celebrated its 30th anniversary in 2021. You’ll discover action figures, T-shirts, DVDs/Blu-rays, and ephemera, including self-published hard-to-find zines, in addition to an excellent range of graphic novels and new/recent comic books and periodicals.
Check out Midtown Comics’ three Manhattan locations for extra comic goodies, while Desert Island Comics in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, has a particularly eclectic, selected variety, including underground comics.
3. Dashwood Books
Since 2005, photography enthusiasts and photographers have made this basement-level NoHo business a must-visit. Dedicated to modern photography books from throughout the world, including those published under their name, ranging from newly released to incredibly difficult-to-find, out-of-print tomes. Dashwood has curated the Gucci Wooster Bookshop, which is located within Soho’s Gucci store and worth a look for more fashion-centric (and vintage) selections, and often offers signings by emerging, edgy photographers.
4. Rizzoli Bookstore
Rizzoli, a trendy, expensive bookstore that was opened in 1964, has had many locations over the years. Many book enthusiasts were likewise heartbroken when Rizzoli closed its six-story 57th street townhouse shop in 2014, with no plans to reopen. Thankfully, Rizzoli opened an exciting and dramatic NoMad flagship story in July 2015, complete with a children’s section at the back! Beautiful art, photography, fashion, gastronomy, décor, architecture, and other books are also available at the bookstore.
5. McNally Jackson
This Canadian independent bookshop chain’s branch has something for everyone, including a limited chosen selection of international niche magazines like gay periodical Elska. The bustling two-story Nolita store on Prince Street is suitable for perusing all genres, including its own “McNally Editions” hidden gem line of paperbacks, as well as a fantastic selection of gift cards. The Seaport, Downtown Brooklyn, and Williamsburg are among the other McNally Jackson sites.
6. Printed Matter, Inc.
This nonprofit organization’s flagship, which will celebrate its 45th anniversary in 2021, serves as a two-level retail space and gallery for just about every form of art book and publication (and, in some cases, items) you can think of, notably self-published and obscure works. There are plenty of signings and parties, and Printed Matter hosts the annual international Art Book Fair at MoMA PS1.
The Beijing import Bungee Space, which opened in the Lower East Side in Summer 2021, is another outstanding and new space dedicated to similar publications, with a particularly wide variety from Mainland China.
7. PowerHouse Books
This fine art, photography, pop culture, and celebrity-centric book publisher has a warehouse-style flagship store in Brooklyn’s buzzy and oft-Instagrammed DUMBO neighborhood. PowerHouse publishes a wide range of progressive literature, biographies, graphic novels, and children’s books, in addition to its releases (2021 titles included the powerful photography and essay collection “The Stolen Daughters of Chibok”). This is in addition to gift products and artwork by acclaimed local Japanese-American cartoonist Adrian Tomine, such as signed framed prints.
8. Bureau of General Services—Queer Division (BGSQD)
The BGSQD was started as a crowdfunded pop-up shop in 2012 by couple Donnie Jochum and Greg Newton. It is one of only around three dozen LGBTQ bookshops in the world, and likely the newest. Since 2014, it has been housed in a large room on the second floor of NYC’s LGBT Community Center in the West Village, where it stocks a wide range of LGBTQ+-themed fiction, nonfiction, art, graphic novels, international magazines, self-published zines, and art, as well as a full calendar of events, guests, screenings, and exhibitions.
Visit the 22-year-old Bluestockings Cooperative on the Lower East Side, a proudly queer, trans, and sex worker-run feminist bookstore that stocks plenty of LGBTQ+ literature.
9. Argosy Book Store
The Argosy is a near century-old location for the first edition and antiquarian book hunters and those seeking an old school NYC atmosphere, as seen in dozens of movies and TV shows including the 2020 Netflix docuseries “Pretend It’s a City,” 2019 feature “The Goldfinch,” and 2019 documentary “The Booksellers.” The Argosy’s vast collection includes old maps, prints, posters, and autographs, in addition to desirable and rare books. Yes, some of Lee Israel’s infamous letter forgeries were sold here, as depicted in the Oscar-nominated 2018 film “Can You Ever Forgive Me?” The Argosy also provides binding and restoration services for antique books in need of little TLC.
10. Sister’s Uptown Bookstore
Sisters Uptown, a Black female-owned business that launched in Washington Heights in 2000, was founded by Janifer P. Wilson and her daughter Kori N. Wilson to bring a burst of vibrancy to the neighborhood while also providing education, emotional, and spiritual assistance. The store is dedicated to works by and about African Americans and other brilliant authors, both written and spoken word. Sister Souljah’s “Life After Death,” Ibrim X. Kendi’s “Four Hundred Souls,” and Isabel Wilkerson’s “Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents” are among the 2021 bestsellers.