NYC bookstores are making a comeback

The new store Books are Magic, pictured, officially opened in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn, on May 1, 2017.
The new store Books are Magic, pictured, officially opened in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn, on May 1, 2017. Photo Credit: Getty Images/Spencer Platt

The story of print books is far from finished, and New Yorkers are helping keep it alive.

Experts said the city’s signature values of community and freedom of expression are giving the print medium a new lease on life in the digital age.

In a recent report, the Association of American Publishers (AAP) found that e-book purchases were down by 16% between 2015 and 2016, while paperback and hardcover book sales rose by 6.5% and 2.1% respectively during the same period.

Between 2009 and 2016, roughly 374 independent book companies opened 660 new locations across the country, including Books Are Magic in Cobble Hill on Monday, the Astoria Bookshop in Queens, and a second Greenlight Bookstore in Brooklyn, according to the American Booksellers Association, which represents a majority of independent bookstores.

City bibliophiles say that a good book and a cozy, local bookshop help provide an escape from the daily grind.

“It gets a bit overwhelming with all of the tech and stimuli in the city,” said Michelle Karasavva, 25, of Astoria, while she was shopping at Strand Book Store in Manhattan. “There is something that puts me at ease, when I’m on a train with a paperback.”

Experts say this sentiment has contributed to a growing demand for neighborhood bookstores in the city after a period of decline. The industry as a whole, which was seeing bleak predictions, has enjoyed more real estate backing.

In New York, there is an added element to the print medium’s popularity as city readers take pride in their choices, whether it’s casually reading a paperback on the subway or carrying a bag of books to work, according to Tina Jordan, a vice president of trade publishing at AAP.

“It’s a part of your emotional furniture,” she said. “Even when you walk into someone’s home, it’s nice to see their style when you see what books they have.”

Oren Teicher, CEO of the American Booksellers Association, said neighborhood bookstores have fed the city’s expansive literary appetite. There are roughly 85 bookstores in the five boroughs that are part of his group, and smaller, local establishments continue to grow in numbers.

Katie Harman, 27, of Astoria, said she has a lot of love for the Astoria Bookshop, which opened three years ago.

“I feel like in New York, it’s just better to go to a community store, especially for print media,” she said. “They’re part of the community and keep it alive.”

Jessica Stockton Bagnulo, co-owner of Greenlight Bookstore, which recently opened its second location in Prospect-Lefferts Gardens, said more neighborhoods — and more importantly landlords — are recognizing the role local bookstores play in the cultural lives of their areas.

Unlike restaurants, bars or concert halls, local bookstores can attract a wide range of customers and provide a more easily managed space, she noted.

“It’s a nice clean business for a landlord, it’s cheaper and easier than a food business, and it really adds to the neighborhood,” Bagnulo said.

Experts predict that New York will remain an incubator for both print media and brick-and-mortar bookstores.

“I do think that the good news is that you have a . . . fairly educated population, and that creates an environment that succeeds,” Teicher said.

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