Chicago has a few things on New York: cleaner streets, more space, and until this past December, Quimby’s Bookstore. Founder Steven Svymbersky, who opened the zine-focused bookstore’s Wicker Park location in the ’80s, has brought the cherished independent bookstore to Williamsburg (536 Metropolitan Ave., 718-384-1215). And it is “almost exactly like the one in Chicago,” he notes, except he has half the space, because, it’s New York.
The lack of square footage is compensated for by neighborly support from the adjacent Desert Island, which Svymbersky dubbed “the best comic book store in New York,” and other neighboring businesses.
“We benefit each other by [our] proximity,” Svymbersky said of his relationship with other local booksellers.
Another major difference at Quimby’s NYC: no comic books. Upon moving into the space that shares a wall with Desert Island, Svymbersky promised not to carry comics. In fact, a sign on the door as you exit Quimby’s even has an arrow pointing to the shop next door, encouraging customers to patronize the long-standing neighborhood shop for all their comic needs. Instead, Svymbersky focuses on zines, books from small presses, alternative magazines and photography books.
He also plans to turn the walls of the narrow space into a photography gallery. In the bookstore’s first months they are already decorated with murals, including a portrait of a ram from which two pipes form dramatic-looking horns. Svymbersky says the store’s aesthetic is influenced by natural history museums.
The books lining the shelves cover “all of the things that are on everyone’s mind right now,” Svymbersky said. Feminism, LGBTQ culture, anarchy and resistance are all prominent themes in the titles. Lena Dunham’s “Not That Kind of Girl” is sold in proximity to Angela Davis’ scholarly work and books on how to make your own zine. Quimby’s bestselling title so far: Rebecca Solnit’s “Hope in The Dark.”
“People really want to read about the issues and freedoms that are threatened right now,” Svymbersky said.
The response to Quimby’s has so far been “amazing,” according to Svymbersky, with former Chicagoans enthused to have the beloved Quimby’s in their neighborhood, and Brooklynites excited to have another local bookstore. “This is becoming a bookstore neighborhood,” Svymbersky said.
In addition to selling books, Quimby’s will host events, including readings, book signings, film screenings, zine-making workshops and more.
Two months in, Svymbersky is the store’s only employee, having worked behind the desk seven days a week for two months straight.
“I don’t want to be anywhere else,” the lifelong aspiring New Yorker laughed. “This I can do until I drop.”