Indie bookstore Idlewild Books is a destination for globetrotters

Indie bookstore Idlewild Books is a destination for globetrotters

Owner David Del Vecchio says there’s an increased interest in books on Mexico and Iceland.

Idlewild Books specializes in travel books, as well as language classes.
Idlewild Books specializes in travel books, as well as language classes. Photo Credit: Brooklyn Bridge Park

This West Village bookstore is your passport to another place.

After a decade spent at the United Nations as a press officer for humanitarian affairs, traveling to destinations like Sudan and Nepal, David Del Vecchio was ready for another adventure. In 2008, the avid reader opened Idlewild Books in Manhattan, becoming the only bookstore in New York to organize titles by place rather than alphabetizing by author.

“The goal when we opened 10 years ago was to open a bookstore for people curious about exploring the world through travel and literature,” says Del Vecchio, 49, who relocated his bookstore from Flatiron to the West Village two years ago. “That’s still the goal today.”

In his former career, Del Vecchio often looked for novels, nonfiction books and other reads that took place where he was traveling. Supplementing guidebooks, which offer itinerary suggestions and practical advice, literature transports readers into the culture and community of any given location.

By 2010, language classes became a formative part of Idlewild’s identity. Del Vecchio himself had experience teaching English in Prague, and has lived in Spain and Italy, giving him the skills he needed to teach an Italian class.

“Customers traveling to Italy or Spain or France would ask me where they could go to practice or strengthen their language skills,” Del Vecchio says.

He realized his business could expand to help aspiring multilingual travelers prepare for a big trip.

“The addition of language classes tied in perfectly with the concept of Idlewild,” he says.

Now, several levels of German, French, Spanish and Italian are taught by native speakers in 90-minute conversational classes which span seven-week sessions. A Brooklyn campus offers additional language school space, but the $295 courses are known to still sell out.

Del Vecchio isn’t a travel agent, but he has noticed trends through his customers’ buying habits.

“Every spring, people start buying guidebooks for Paris and Italy,” he says.

Come summer, European books are the most popular. In winter, shoppers stock up on South American travel guides.

Recently, Idlewild has sold an increasing number of titles about Mexico and Iceland, and books about the Danish lifestyle and Japanese customs are seeing an uptick.

Foreign literature is also popular with Idlewild devotees, with translated and native language titles offering the chance to explore rare titles or off-the-beaten-track destinations.

This fall, Idlewild hopes to expand its reach beyond the city and host a pop-up at a farmhouse in the Catskills, with long-weekend classes immersing visitors in a different language.

Meanwhile, Idlewild’s New York City language classes take place in six different sessions throughout the year, with summer classes starting next month

FAST FACTS

  • Idlewild is named after the original moniker for JFK Airport.
  • The bookstore’s foreign language classes, taught by native speakers, reach 4,000 students each year. The most popular language to learn is Spanish, followed by French and Italian.
  • A special buyer scouts international titles for Idlewild’s shelves.
  • Idlewild is located at 170 Seventh Ave. S. Classes are also held in Brooklyn at 249 Warren St., Cobble Hill. For more info, visit idlewildbooks.com.

Melissa Kravitz