When Emma Straub learned that her neighborhood bookstore and former employer, BookCourt, would be closing, she was “100 percent heartbroken.”
“I was weeping, decimated on the floor,” Straub recalled. “I thought no, this can’t be!”
But the Brooklyn-based author’s immediate despair and disbelief soon outlined a new chapter for her and her husband, Michael Fusco-Straub: a bookstore of their own.
“Mike and I had talked for a long time about the idea of taking over BookCourt, should the owners retire,” Straub revealed, curled up on a tufted leather love seat in a reading nook of Books Are Magic, their successor to BookCourt.
Taking over an already existing small business “ultimately proved too complicated” and thus, the new independent bookstore, which opens May 1, was written into Smith Street’s retail lineup.
Local bookstore owners and friends, including Christine Onorati of Greenpoint’s Word, helped provide guidance and advice on breaking into Brooklyn’s independent bookstore scene.
“Everyone’s been not just supportive but patient and generous with us,” Straub said, noting she doesn’t see her store as competition but rather a collaborator in the city’s literary landscape.
“Every neighborhood needs one independent bookstore where people can walk, bring their kids, go to events,” Straub said. “I would never open a bookstore encroaching on someone else’s territory. I want this to be the friendliest bookstore in Brooklyn.”
Hiring from New York’s diverse array of bookstores, ranging from Greenlight to The Strand to Barnes & Noble, Straub said the main goal was to bring on talent “that knew more than we did.” The collaborative efforts have been “wonderful” with a range of voices suggesting stocking titles and authors that may have otherwise slipped Straub’s mind.
Books Are Magic, which will sell everything from best-sellers to a wide selection of kids’ books to lesser-known titles by local authors and “weird books that no one’s seen anywhere else,” Fusco-Straub added, will also function as an event space. May’s calendar is already crowded, with a book launch for J. Courtney Sullivan, a reading with Brooklyn Writers Space and a paperback party for Straub’s latest novel, “Modern Lovers.” Straub also hinted that local collaborations are in the works, like a cheese and book club with Smith Street mainstay Stinky Bklyn.
The neighborhood was evidently eager for Books Are Magic to open. On a rainy April morning, a little boy pressed his nose and stuffed seal through a gap in the store’s papered windows, successfully procuring a special invitation for a sneak peek around the bookshop’s exposed brick walls and trendy floating shelves.
“Our old bookstore closed,” a little voice said, precociously echoing Straub’s melancholy of BookCourt’s shuttering.
“We’re so happy you can come here now,” Straub replied, a wide smile across her face. “So happy!”
Books Are Magic opens May 1 at 225 Smith St. in Cobble Hill. For more info, visit booksaremagic.net.
Put Emma Straub on your reading list
Emma Straub is the author of several novels, a short story collection and various other works. While she’s sidelined her writing to focus on Books Are Magic, she promises another novel in the near future, about family, cheese and the Hudson Valley. Here’s a look at the worlds created in her three novels:
“Modern Lovers” (2016)
A hot Ditmas Park summer raises tensions between best friends and longtime neighbors Zoe and Elizabeth, who re-examine their friendship, marriages and career as their two teenage children foray between Rockaway Beach and Barclays Center, foraging a relationship of their own.
“The Vacationers” (2014)
It’s summer in Mallorca, and a vacation in a family friend’s luxurious island home promises the ultimate escape for New Yorkers Franny and Jim Post, celebrating their 35th wedding anniversary, and their recent high school graduate daughter, Sylvia. But of course, 14 days in paradise can’t be perfect, especially when plans change, secrets are revealed and teenage angst is proven just as susceptible to spectacular seascapes as sticky summer Manhattan sidewalks.
“Laura Lamont’s Life in Pictures” (2012)
In Straub’s first novel, the golden age of Hollywood is seen through the eyes of Elsa Emerson, who flees small-town Wisconsin to become Laura Lamont, movie star. Along with the highs of fame, though, come the personal and professional lows.