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Book Culture building community in Long Island City

"Book Culture has always been committed to keeping the legacy of bookstores alive," says general manager Althea Lamel.

Book Culture has become a destination for best-sellers

Book Culture has become a destination for best-sellers and gifts. Photo Credit: Todd Maisel

After opening three stores in Manhattan, Book Culture looked across the East River to Queens, a borough where you can count the number of independent bookstores on one hand.

The 22-year-old bookstore’s fourth and latest location is nestled on Jackson Avenue in Long Island City across from familiar Manhattan megaliths — Chipotle, Starbucks — and next to beloved local food businesses — Xi’an Famous Foods, Partners Coffee (formerly Toby’s Estate).

Its Long Island City home has been in the spotlight as of late, from a population and construction boom to that scrapped Amazon HQ2 deal. The tech giant’s controversial plan to build a campus in the neighborhood may bring to mind a certain 1990s rom-com: A corporate behemoth coming to a neighborhood concerns supporters of a small, independent business. Only in this case, of course, the giant didn’t move in, and the independent business is thriving. (The movie? “You’ve Got Mail.”)

Book Culture originally opened in 1997 under the moniker Labyrinth Books as a textbook and used bookstore for students at Columbia University. In 2007, the store, located in Morningside Heights on West 112th near Broadway, rebranded to Book Culture and became more of a general interest bookshop; today it sells everything from New York Times best-sellers to Ruth Bader Ginsburg tote bags and S’well water bottles.

Since its rebranding, the bookstore has added Manhattan outposts at addresses that once housed booksellers, in Morningside Heights at Broadway and West 114th Street and on the Upper West Side on Columbus Avenue near West 82nd Street.

The Long Island City location opened in December 2017, where it has quickly gained a following as a place to shop for contemporary literature, children’s books and gifts. It also is among a small but growing number of Queens independent bookstores.

“Book Culture has always been committed to keeping the legacy of bookstores alive,” says Althea Lamel, general manager at Book Culture LIC. “Barnes & Noble [in Bayside] closed, [but] a lot of independent bookstores, like Astoria Bookshop and Kew & Willow, have opened in Queens.”

Book Culture LIC offers similar goods as the other Book Culture shops, though the different locations have their “own following,” says Rachel Cartee, event coordinator at Book Culture. “The store at 112th and the Broadway store are geared toward Columbia students and academics, and the Columbus store and our store are more family-oriented.”

Indeed, the LIC location stands apart with an entire lower level dedicated to children’s books, games, toys and more. An open seating area allows space for families to play, read and gather for story time, singalongs, Spanish classes and more.

“Having this whole basement area is really important,” Lamel says, noting that it encourages families to linger, rather than just purchase a specific item and leave.

And with the up-and-coming nature of Long Island City, a spacious, light-filled shop like Book Culture was just the space locals craved.

“High-rises are filling up, and I think [people] sensed a need for places for the community to come together,” Cartee says.

FAST FACTS

  • After Michelle Obama’s “Becoming,” local author and tour guide Joe DiStefano’s “111 Places in Queens That You Must Not Miss” was the second top seller in 2018.
  • Book Culture’s “blind date” books, in which a mystery title (typically a book with less hype) is wrapped and promoted with comparable titles, is another popular LIC item. Each Book Culture has its own blind date table, curated by the people who work in each store.
  • Fans can become members. For $49 a year, shoppers get 10% off all purchases, a tote bag and free shipping. All customers get $10 back after spending $200 in the bookstore’s loyalty program.
  • Book Culture LIC is located at 26-09 Jackson Ave. in Long Island City. For more info, visit bookculture.com.

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