Here at Dandelion Chandelier, we love bookstores, and whether we’re at home in New York City or on the road, we’re always looking out for the best and most beautiful ones in town. No offense to the large chain bookstores, but we’re partial to the wonderful, quirky local independent bookstores that can define a neighborhood (or even an entire city). So, what are the best independent bookstores in NYC? Our correspondent and New York City resident Julie Chang Murphy is sharing our list of the 12 best, most beautiful indie bookstores in Manhattan, Brooklyn and the rest of New York City (NYC), including Albertine, Rizzoli and The Strand. These are the ones to make time to visit the next time you’re in town.
which indie bookstores are best to visit in New York City (NYC) right now?
As proud bookworms, one of our favorite activities (besides reading) is getting lost in the maze of a good, old-fashioned book store. Browsing the aisles with an open mind and iced coffee in hand, and then leaving with an ambitious amount of books somehow feels indulgent and virtuous.
Our favorite bookstore is usually the one in our own neighborhood. For me, that’s Book Culture in Long Island City, where the front table’s non-fiction titles always seem specially curated for my tastes.[white_box]
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Others on our team want to give a shout-out to the Barnes & Noble on Fifth Avenue – it’s not an indie bookstore, but it is a wonderful place to get lost during your lunch hour if you work in Midtown.
So don’t get us wrong – we have nothing against chain bookstores. It’s just that, in typical New York City fashion, the independent book stores – like its restaurants and fashion boutiques – are the best of the best. They’re destination-worthy — even if you already have your own personal fave closer to home.
Read on for our list of the 12 best indie book stores to browse when you’re next in Manhattan, Brooklyn or the rest of New York City (NYC), including Albertine, Rizzoli and The Strand bookstore.
12 best indie bookstores to browse in Manhattan, Brooklyn and the rest of New York City (NYC)
1. McNally Jackson — Nolita, Seaport, Downtown Brooklyn, and Williamsburg
You can’t help but feel your IQ go up when walking into one of the city’s four McNally Jackson book stores. Fiction is organized by the author’s country of origin and you’re more than likely to go down the rabbit hole of its extensive selection of imported and independent magazines. The stores themselves are beautiful and staffed with personable bibliophiles who are excited to assist and recommend. If you’re looking to make an afternoon of it, head to the South Street Seaport location which houses a cafe stocked with coffee and pastries from iconic NYC bakeries like Sarabeth’s and Balthazar’s.
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2. Greenlight Bookstore — Fort Greene and Flatbush
There’s an undeniable feeling of community at Greenlight; it’s built-in to their business model. To open the bookstore, individuals from the neighborhood provided loans for the store’s startup expenses via the Community Lender Program. Besides the well-designed spaces on Fulton Street and Flatbush Avenue, its carefully curated, community-minded events have earned Greenlight a reputation as a literary destination. Greenlight also partners with notable and local arts organization BAM (Brooklyn Academy of Music) to create educational programming and reading lists from their season.
3. The Strand — Union Square
Likely the most famous bookstore in New York City, The Strand was born in 1927 on NYC’s famous Book Row, and is now the only store from that time. Today, the store carries over 2.5 million used, new, and rare books, covering topics as far-ranging as occult to philosophy to finance. Besides books, you can also find a cheeky assortment of literary gifts, as well as their iconic tote bags.
4. Books are Magic — Brooklyn
Bestselling author Emma Straub (whose new novel This Time Tomorrow, comes out this May) and her husband, designer Michael Fusco-Straub, opened Books are Magic in 2017. Located in Cobble Hill, the bookstore is home to exciting new releases as well as beloved classics. Plenty of magic can be found in the hidey-holes created for children, gumballs filled with poetry, and readings and panels almost every night of the week.
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5. Three Lives & Company — West Village
Pultizer-Prize winning author Michael Cunningham said about Three Lives: “I go there when I’m feeling depressed and discouraged, and I always feel rejuvenated.” The cozy bohemian bookshop on the corner has attracted writers and artists since 1978. It still has a neighborhood feel where on any given day, you’ll see locals leave their keys, serendipitous conversations between strangers, and the staff recommending something obscure that they’re currently reading. Fun Fact: Before it was Three Lives, Edward Hopper painted the building when it was a Silber’s Drug Store in 1927.
6. The Drama Bookshop — Midtown West
In 2020, The Drama Bookshop was saved by the team behind Hamilton: The Musical. Since 1917, it had been a mainstay of the New York theatre scene and a cultural institution for theatrical works but was almost forced to close due to a drastic rent increase. Now, in a new location, designed by Hamilton scenic designer, David Korins, this is a must-browse store for theater lovers and performers with books about the history of theater to scripts to acting craft.
7. Albertine — Upper East Side
Pass through a marble-columned rotunda and an opulent 18th century mirrored Venetian interior and you’ll find yourself in a bookshop that feels like a restored library in an elegant mansion. In fact, it is an elegant mansion — the historic Payne Whitney mansion which now serves as the Cultural Services of the French Embassy. Inside, Albertine stocks fourteen thousand volumes of contemporary and classic titles in French and English. On the second floor, you’ll be further transported by the dreamy ceiling, decorated with a night sky and a zodiac fresco. This is a must visit whether or not you can read French.
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8. Bauman Rare Books — Upper East Side
True bibliophiles must stop at Bauman’s for its extraordinary selection of rare, antiquarian, first editions, signed and inscribed books. You can’t help but have a feeling of wonder looking around the gallery filled with so much history. Whether you are an advanced collector, a novice interested in starting to collect, or simply in search of a special gift, the store is known for its friendly and knowledgeable sales staff that can guide you to your next treasure.
9. The Center for Fiction — Brooklyn
Building on two centuries as the Mercantile Library, The Center for Fiction’s new building is 17,000 square feet of space devoted to the literary arts. It offers an impressive range of fiction — more than 100,000 titles and serves as a premier center for author talks, workshops, and reading groups. But it’s not all serious studying. Stop by the Café & Bar for coffee, tea, beer, wine, cocktails, and small bites and events like BYOBook Happy Hours.
10. Sweet Pickle Books — Lower East Side
If only there was a shop that sold books and pickles…well, now that quirky combination does, in fact, exist. Sweet Pickle Books sells used books that range in niche topics like “psychedelics” and “books you lied about reading” as well as a robust vintage cookbook section. The pickles part? Part homage to her mother and the legacy of pickling from the immigrants that settled the Lower East Side, owner Leigh Altshuler sells jars of custom pickles: dill pickles and a spicy version made hot with jalapeños.
11. Rizzoli bookstore – Flatiron, Manhattan
Unquestionably, one of the most beautiful bookstores in New York City is Rizzoli. Originally located on West 57th Street near Carnegie Hall, it is now in the Flatiron district, close to the cool-kid NoMad hotel.
There’s a lot to love about this place: a deep and comprehensive selection of books about New York City. All the new releases in fiction and non-fiction. Warm wood and soft lighting. And so many books about art and design and fashion that you could happily spend several days browsing.
There are occassional author signings, readings and special events. But for us, this is the perfect destination bookstore, especially on a chilly winter day. You know you’ll find that book you just read about that you want to buy. And you also know it’s a jewel box, with a new treasure or two patiently awaiting your arrival.
12. The Lit. Bar: Bookstore and Chill – Mott Haven, the Bronx
In October 2014, Bronx native and resident Noëlle Santos joined over 3,000 protesters to save the only existing bookstore in the borough – a Barnes & Noble – from displacement. Two years later, the store did close, creating a bookstore desert in the Bronx that would last until Santos took matters into her own hands. On April 27, 2019 – National Independent Bookstore Day – The Lit. Bar opened its permanent location in the Mott Haven section of the Bronx. As of this posting, it’s the only brick & mortar bookstore serving the 1.5 million people of the borough.
In what sounds to us like a little slice of heaven, the store’s website notes that it’s the site of literary and community gatherings . . . “while our wine bar connects the great pastimes of social sipping and introverted reading.” We are All. In.
top 12 indie bookstores to browse in New York City
Those are our team’s picks for the 12 best indie book stores to browse when you’re next in Manhattan, Brooklyn or the rest of New York City (NYC), including Albertine, Rizzoli and The Strand bookstore.
We all appreciate the micro-luxury of sitting down with a delicious new novel. And we think that experience is made even richer by purchasing said novel at an independent bookshop. Because in that setting, who knows what might happen? From getting an unexpected recommendation from a fellow shopper to picking up a jar of pickles! Serendipity awaits, and you’re bound to have a lovely experience at any of these wonderful indie bookstores in New York City. What’s your top pick, dear reader?
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Crediting her training as a cultural anthropologist at Wellesley College, Julie has immersed herself in various industries in the last 15 years including fashion design, event planning, and fitness. Julie lives in New York where she loves trying every ramen and dumpling restaurant with her husband and three children. She finds joy in bold prints, biographies of fierce women, kickboxing. And spending way too long finding the perfect polish color to express her mood.