Strand_BookstoreSad news for Manhattan bibliophiles is that St. Mark’s Bookshop, an East Village institution at 136 East Third Street which claims to be “the oldest independent book store in Manhattan which is still owned by the original owners,” looks on the verge of closure. However, New York Magazine‘s Bedford and Bowery portal used the news to contrast the very differing fortunes of a sister local institution, Strand Book Store at 828 Broadway, “New York City’s legendary home of 18 Miles of new, used and rare books.”

According to the statements quoted in Bedford and Bowery, Strand Book Store enjoyed “a record-breaking holiday season with 10% growth over last year,” including the busiest day in its own history, “on December 19th and 30,000 more visitors in December 2015 than 2014.” B&B quotes Fred Bass, 87, founding owner of Strand Book Store, saying: “in the age of digital everything, we’ve turned the tide against e-books. We’ve become better organized and our stock is fantastic and strong. Overall, we made the store more welcoming.”

Normally, I wouldn’t be one to applaud anyone “turning the tide against” ebooks. But if Strand Book Store’s secret recipe for indie bookstores to survive and thrive in the digital era works, without selling out to Big Five James Patterson-style shelf stuffing, I’m all for it. But how does Strand Book Store do it?

Well, apparently at least partly through tech. According to a long interview with Hunter Walk carried on the bookstore’s website, Strand’s Lilly Wyden says “technology has enabled the Strand to show, maybe even remind, customers what we offer beyond just selling a new bestseller.” Partly this is with a strong social media strategy, “such that the voice you hear online, whether it’s our e-commerce site, Twitter, or our email blasts – should be one and the same with what you hear in our brick and mortar store. Social media is a bridge, to start a conversation and follow up on one.” But Lilly Wyden also claims that Strand “has really set itself apart via creative content and messaging. our owner Fred is 85 and he came up with the idea to have a table in the very front of the store called ‘Real Books Cheaper than E-Books.’ It’s a huge hit.” And there’s plenty more detail in the interview too.

St. Mark’s Bookshop, meanwhile, is still in the midst of its 50 percent clearance sale. The full sorry story of its imminent demise in the face of $62,000 in back rent and other debts is chronicled in B&B here. And as B&B itself says, “the familiar story of bookshops struggling to stay relevant in light of atrocities committed against the printed word like the Kindle hasn’t played out the same way for every likeminded business in the area.”

I’d recommend any indie bookseller, or fan of same, to check out the Strand Book Store website, the interview with Lilly Wyden cited above, and the B&B coverage. If you’re already in the same plight as St. Mark’s Bookshop, though, I feel for you. Because there are other ways. Just because you’re in the Bowery doesn’t mean you have to be a Bowery bum.


  1. One way that tech could have helped Strand is in the location of books. Strand has so many books that one could get lost in the place. With tech, one could more easily find what one is looking for.
    Something that has helped Strand is to be one of the few bookstores left standing. A cousin from Manhattan recently visited me. When we were driving by a Half Price Books outlet, I asked her if she wanted to go in. Her reply: ” As there are so few bookstores remaining in NYC, it would be worth the visit.” She ended up buying some books to take back to New York City.

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