“Whatever way that people read books, I’m going to get them into my store — I don’t care if I have to stock contact lenses that let the words scroll across your eyes.”
Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that for Noëlle Santos, who will open The Lit Bar in the Bronx this spring — part of a continuing resurgence of independent booksellers in New York City. Shakespeare and Company is opening two new stores this year, in Greenwich Village and on the Upper West Side. The latter is considered a homecoming for the original Shakespeare and Company, which was an institution in that neighborhood from 1982 to 1996, and it will be joining a robust range of indies in the area including Word Up, Books of Wonder, Bank Street Bookstore and several branches of Book Culture (the one on Columbus Avenue is in the space once occupied by the beloved Endicott Booksellers).
Maybe, just maybe, the late great Nora Ephron was wrong. Twenty years ago, her film “You’ve Got Mail” seemed to punctuate the death sentence of independent bookstores. Between 1995 and 2009, the number of indies in the United States declined by 43 percent, according to the American Booksellers Association, a trade organization for independently owned bookstores. Over the past two decades, New York City institutions such as St. Mark’s Bookshop, Coliseum Books and Murder Ink bit the dust. Big boxes — really big boxes — seemed to be winning. E-books entered the market. And then there was Amazon.
“We’re never going to beat Amazon at Amazon’s game, but I think there is a craving for going back to the old New York,” said Dane Neller, chief executive of Shakespeare and Company. Multiple branches and plans for a national presence (with a Philadelphia store opening this summer) put Shakespeare and Company in the small chain category, but Mr. Neller wants to create “the biggest little bookshop in the world,” intimate and localized, with a high level of service.
Meg Ryan (left) and Heather Burns starred in “You’ve Got Mail,” about a bookstore that is forced to close when a chain store comes to the neighborhood.Credit…Warner Brothers Pictures
“The most fun part of being a bookseller is hand-selling people things they didn’t know they needed,” said Emma Straub, a best-selling novelist and co-owner with her husband of Books Are Magic, which replaced the beloved BookCourt in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn, 10 months ago. (The word “beloved” comes up frequently when discussing independent bookstores.)