Transcendentalist Henry David Thoreau once raved about Staten Island’s beauty, and though the borough has housed many famous authors — like poet Audre Lorde, whose Stapleton residence is now proposed for landmark status — Staten Island often takes a backseat in the portrayal of literary New York.
If Brooklyn is the independent bookstore borough, where does that leave readers across the Verrazano? Perhaps at Every Thing Goes Book Cafe (208 Bay St., Tompkinsville), the borough’s only used bookstore, which opened in 2005.
“We have a tremendous amount of appreciation and support from the local community and the whole North Shore of Staten Island,” said Katie McCarthy, the shop’s co-founder and book manager.
McCarthy and her partner, Steve Jones Daughs, opened the store after a secondhand variety store with a book department closed, leaving space for McCarthy, a manager at the former store, to embark on her own venture.
“I felt strongly that having a used bookstore in a neighborhood is an important part of a community and makes the area a better place for a lot of people,” she said.
She was motivated to start a cafe-bookstore hybrid because each aspect of the business symbiotically supports the other. People come in for coffee and browse books, while bookshoppers naturally look for a mug of hot java after an inspiring literary find.
McCarthy does everything from fielding phone calls to sorting inventory, accepting donations, organizing, cleaning and displaying. In addition to accepting donated titles, McCarthy also orders books for author events, as well as in-demand bestsellers, like Michelle Obama’s “Becoming,” which required a prompt reorder.
The shop itself is reminiscent of a quirky family member’s treasure trove of literary and cultural nostalgia, with shelves packed with books organized by genre, interspersed with colorful postures, historic photographs and eclectic décor. Wind chimes hang from the ceiling, a Yoda statue looks over a cart of books and a guitar rests on a particularly high shelf. In back, a small stage adorned with a red velvet backdrop and twinkle lights welcomes local creatives.
“When we opened, things were already moving toward people reading more e-books, but I think used bookstores haven’t really lost their popularity, we’re as popular as ever,” McCarthy said. “Amazon offers great deals, but there are people who would much rather handle the books and look at a book before they buy it. Other people believe in local businesses, so they’d rather buy a book from us.”
For many, ETG is a space to convene for regular shopping trips, as well as meet local creatives and perform on the local stage. Sixty-year-old Vivian Vassar, of Snug Harbor, is part of Day de Dada, a performance art collective in Staten Island, and has found ETG’s diversity in its audiences as well as its “openness to avant-garde art” make the space especially supportive for her group’s Fluxus-inspired work. “ETG is a comfortable oasis in a busy city,” she says. “I can stop in and chat [with] friends there or sit in a quiet corner to read or think. I also use the cafe for business meetings since I work at home.”
The cafe serves exclusively organic and fair trade coffee, as well as homemade hummus, mostly vegan snacks and a popular iced tea called Eve’s Elixir. A monthly open mic, as well as literary events, poetry readings and even occasional political fundraisers and debates take place on a small stage.
Tourists from around the world seek out the shop, according to McCarthy, often commenting that the space feels like home. She attributes that to the shop’s mom-and-pop nature, a spirit that has kept her going over the 14 years she’s been in business.
“We’re not a big corporate place, we’re a homey space, and people like that,” McCarthy said.
- Self-help, spirituality and philosophy corner has the highest turnover. Anything related to alternative healing or herbal healing also flies off the shelves. New York City history is always popular as well as children’s books.
- The Staten Island Ferry is free to ride over! Visitors from other boroughs and countries come to check out the cafe after exploring the New York waterways, enjoying free Wi-Fi, organic coffee and a snack, and picking up a read for the ferry ride back to Manhattan.
- Anyone interested in hosting a small stage event can inquire about holding their performance at ETG Book Cafe. Most events are also live streamed online.