As around 5,900 freshmen move into the dorms and buy textbooks for the year, everyone’s shopping around for the best deals. Students new to the Village and looking for a place in the Big Apple will likely seek refuge in independent bookstores. Within a radius of 20 blocks, we enjoy access to storied institutions like Strand Bookstore, McNally Jackson, St. Mark’s Bookshop and the radical bookstore Bluestockings.
Precious though they may be, these independent shops are very susceptible to market forces. They rarely have much in the way of capital and overhead, keeping afloat exclusively on day-to-day book sales. This makes these stores especially vulnerable to sudden increases in rent. St. Mark’s Bookshop, an East Village institution since it opened in 1977, has recently been embroiled in a dispute over high rent. In August, the owners announced they were seeking investment to cover costs of a move and stocking their shelves. Obviously, it is outside the scope of most students to become full-fledged investors in a local business, but it is within our power to choose where we buy the books we need for class. Independent bookstores rarely have much in the way of capital and rely on people buying books to literally keep the lights on. This is why, in our first editorial of the year, the WSN would like to encourage you to go local, and buy the books you can in independent bookstores around the city.
The convenience of shopping on Amazon — buying books anywhere, on almost any device — is worth bearing in mind, but buying from independent bookstores comes with far-reaching benefits that often aren’t considered. Most students are already acquainted with the used bookstore vibe and the sight of old books piled high, but there’s so much more. Your local bookstores can provide good recommendations in a way that Amazon’s “customers who bought items in your recent history also bought” can’t. Amazon also can’t host readings, highlight local authors or serve as a space for the community in the way that the Strand and Bluestockings, which host events almost daily, do.
But the benefits of independent bookstores appeal to a broad range of people, not just bibliophiles. Local and independent bookstores give back in ways that Amazon doesn’t: they keep money in the community, provide local employment and can benefit other stores on the block through incidental business. More than simple storefronts, independent bookshops are a gathering ground for culture and discussion. Charming and welcoming, they are an essential part of the New York experience.
CAS students looking for Schneider’s “Introduction to Public Health” don’t have many options beyond the NYU bookstore and Amazon, but the Gallatin student reading Sylvia Plath’s “The Bell Jar” or Bret Easton Ellis’ “American Psycho” do. For both leisure and class reading, we should support bookstores in the area.
A version of this article appeared in the Saturday, August 29 print edition. Email the WSN Editorial Board at [email protected]