New York City readers and writers will have a “home” at the new Center for Fiction when it opens its doors — and its bookstore, cafe and library — this month.
The three-story facility at 15 Lafayette Ave., which sits kitty-corner from the Brooklyn Academy of Music, is poised to become a hub for storytellers and those who like to hear or read their words, according to Noreen Tomassi, the center’s executive director.
Starting Feb. 19, the public will have access to the center’s impressive store, which stashes its books up to the high ceilings, and its cafe, which will eventually offer coffee, wine, beer, cocktails and small bites.
The bookstore has “deep cuts” from the fiction world, including works by independent publishers, Brooklyn-based publishers and books that the staff can recommend to you that aren’t necessarily new, like a collection of Mohsin Hamid works, for example, according to the store’s manager Ben Rybeck.
As for the cafe, Tomassi and the center’s board envisioned a place where people feel welcome to sit and talk, whether they meet there to discuss a book or are waiting for a public program to start in the facility’s 140-seat auditorium in the next room.
“I wanted it to be a place where people could meet over coffee or a glass of wine or a light bite to eat and feel at home… like they could linger and look at books, buy books and wait for an event to start. I wanted to have an open feeling. We want to encourage people to drop in.”
The center’s inaugural programming in its Brooklyn space starts in earnest on Feb. 20, the day after its opening, with novelist Amit Chaudhuri in conversation with The New Yorker’s James Wood. Other author events include discussions with writers Christine Schutt, Mahogany Browne and Deborah Eisenberg, among others.
But those looking for help with their writing can find it in the center’s writing workshops and discuss literature in its numerous reading groups, which are open to the general public for a fee.
For $150 a year per person, members are able to fully experience the 17,500-square-foot space and all of its resources, from its numerous reading rooms with plush, high-back chairs and quiet reading nooks to its terrace and its library of more than 70,000 titles.
Appropriately, its crime novel section with 16,000 titles, is located in the building’s basement.
Writers can sign up for a separate kind of membership for $225 a month that includes access to the above, but one that offers the ability to rent a writing desk in a separate space — accessible by key card outside of regular hours.
These rooms are only accessible by taking the stairs, which are decorated with the faces of iconic storytellers, including Edgar Allan Poe, Toni Morrison and Virginia Woolf, or in its elevator that is covered in the words and illustrations of actual books.
The Center for Fiction, formerly known as the Mercantile Library, has been around since 1820 but only now is it able to realize a dream its leaders have had for about a decade, according to Tomassi.
“This has been a dream for a long time,” she said. “When we walk around the space it literally feels like a dream come true.”
The idea to relocate from its old space at 17 E. 47th St. in Manhattan was born more than a decade ago, but wasn’t able to come to fruition because of the economy’s fall in 2008, she said. It wasn’t until 2014 that plans began to take shape.
“Although we don’t have any more square footage here, it feels three times as large because the space there was vertical and so much of the space was lost to the staircase and things,” she said. “We have quadrupled our ability to do things.”
“We are incredibly excited to be here,” she said. “We are in a cultural district and we are surrounded by organizations that we can partner with; we are in a place that has families and people living there; a life surrounding us and we didn’t have any of that in midtown Manhattan.”
A grand opening party is being held on Tuesday, Feb. 19, from 7 to 9:30 p.m. with live music, an open bar, food and door prizes by Brooklyn vendors like Ample Hills, Brooklyn Brewery and Alamo Drafthouse. Proceeds will go to support the Center’s KidsRead/KidsWrite program. Tickets are $35 at center-for-fiction.myshopify.com.