Amazon has opened a brick-and-mortar store at Columbus Circle, but the retail giant can’t measure up to New York City’s independent bookstores, which offer charming details, social missions and a sense of community. Here are some of our favorites. [Update, November 2022: Amazon Books has closed, but the shops below remain open—a testament to the power of good independent bookstores.]
Opened by the French Embassy’s Cultural Services, this warmly lit bookshop carries titles in French and English, highlighting work from dozens of French-speaking countries and encouraging cross-cultural discussion.
What you can’t find on Amazon: A gorgeous space with a hand-painted ceiling tucked away in the Stanford White–designed Payne Whitney mansion.
Bonnie Slotnick Cookbooks
This bookstore, recently reopened in the East Village, is owned and operated as a labor of love by Bonnie Slotnick. Hours are usually 1 to 7pm, but they change weekly. (Visit bonnieslotnickcookbooks.com for details.) You can peruse new and vintage cookbooks, organized by country and cuisine.
What you can’t find on Amazon: In-store events, of course, which feature food from the cookbooks Slotnick recommends.
Courtesy, Books Are Magic
Books Are Magic
When authors (and spouses) Emma and Michael Fusco-Straub found out their local Cobble Hill bookstore, BookCourt, was closing last year, they decided to open their own. It’s already drawn raves for its welcoming atmosphere and calendar of author events.
What you can’t find on Amazon: Story time for your littlest readers.
Photo: Alex Lopez
This Fort Greene fixture is distinguished by a neighborly vibe and a robust lineup of readings.
What you can’t find on Amazon: You might find autographed copies of your favorite books online; maybe even some of first editions. But you won’t be able to meet the author.
Photo: Phil Kline
Housing Works Bookstore Cafe
This Soho bookstore—which features beautiful curving staircases that lead to a second, wraparound level—is part café, part thrift shop and all social purpose. Housing Works’ slate of events includes an ongoing “Drunk Education” series that features nights like “Roasts of Literary Men.”
What you can’t find on Amazon: One hundred percent of the bookstore’s proceeds go back into Housing Works’ nonprofit, which helps people with HIV/AIDS.
The Lit. Bar
Bronx native Noëlle Santos has been hard at work making sure that her borough gets a literary hub. The Lit. Bar will feature a wine bar, works by local artists and events like readings, poetry slams and story time; the plan is to open by the end of the year.
What you can’t find on Amazon: Even your high-speed cable modem won’t drop you into a wine bar.
Photo: Will Steacy
Nolita’s McNally Jackson is organized and comforting, with everything you might possibly need in a bookstore: a kids’ corner, a café, tables and chairs for reading and studying, a wide selection of international literature and timely book clubs. Keep an eye out for Cristin’s hilarious (and sometimes slightly off-color) recommendations.
What you can’t find on Amazon: A book-printing machine on which you can watch out-of-stock titles or personal manuscripts bound right before your eyes.
Photo: Julienne Schaer
Home to publisher PowerHouse Books, this Dumbo bookstore is set in an industrial space and comes with views of the Manhattan Bridge and its archway. It doubles as a venue for art shows, author talks and music performances.
What you can’t find on Amazon: Big-name authors like Paul Auster, David Sedaris and Joyce Carol Oates, live and in person.
Courtesy, Revolution Books
This communist bookstore, with texts in English and Spanish, has virtually every leftist text a beret-wearing radical (or intellectually curious lover of free markets) could want. The shop, frequented by students and other community members, also hosts political and literary events.
What you can’t find on Amazon: For one, communism. This nonprofit also has an all-volunteer staff. But you still need to pay for your books.
Now at a new, airy location in Nomad, Rizzoli Bookstore focuses on fine arts, literature and foreign language books. You can also find European magazines and stationery—you’ll feel fancy from the moment you walk in.
What you can’t find on Amazon: The vibe of a high-class literary salon.
Photo: Alexander Thompson
The Strand is NYC's most famous bookstore, drawing visitors from across the world to its Village location. With three and a half floors (containing “18 miles of books,” as their slogan says), near-daily discussions and author events with the likes of Wallace Shawn and Janet Mock (to name a couple happening around press time) and discounts that border on the unbelievable (sometimes you can find new hardcovers around half price), it’s easy for a book lover to spend hours here.
What you can’t find on Amazon: The Rare Book Room features editions that are centuries old. Book lovers have even gotten married there.
Courtesy, Turn the Page Again
Turn the Page Again
This used bookstore in Bayside, Queens, partners with TSINY (Transitional Services for New York, Inc.) to support people with mental illnesses and help them prepare to move on to other jobs.
What you can’t find on Amazon: All books are under $5, and “flash sales” bring prices even lower.
Photo: Sharon Zobali
Westsider Rare & Used Books
This Upper West Side bookseller is small and haphazard—used books stacked two deep, or lining either side of the stairs. They’ve got an eclectic mix of fiction, nonfiction, first editions and rock records. Find a copy of an out-of-print guide to UFO hunting or an edition of Sherlock Holmes from the early 1900s.
What you can’t find on Amazon: The chaos of discovery. Westsider might not be the best choice for a specific in-and-out purchase, but it can’t be beat for browsing.
Photo: Phil Kline
This cute little Greenpoint shop offers book groups, story time and author discussions. In keeping with the neighborhood’s tastes, it carries a lot of fiction and indie stationery.
What you can’t find on Amazon: Word sponsors some unliterary events like basketball games (every Sunday morning and Wednesday evening in the park across the street) and potlucks.
Courtesy, Word Up
Washington Heights’ Word Up is run by volunteers who want to foster an inclusive, empowering environment for their community. It’s multilingual, hosting readings, workshops and other events in Spanish and English at its colorful, homey space.
What you can’t find on Amazon: Poetry, comedy and rap open mics.