From James Baldwin to E. E. Cummings and many more, there was a time when literary icons roamed Bleecker and Broadway. Many of them sat in the East Village and pondered on the world before becoming textbook topics. The atmosphere of a classic neighborhood bookstore is like no other, but the one that holds a special place in my heart is Mercer Street Books & Records.
The neon pink “BOOKS” sign in the window invited my inner child to enter. When I was younger, I loved trips to Barnes & Noble. At the time the franchise was new to my area. The children’s section was equipped with bean bags and brightly colored decorations that told me that I must read another book. Mercer Books & Records is the adult version of that experience. The endless stacks of new and used books make you feel as if you are buried alive in literature. It’s a place where I feel comfortable ignoring the vibrations on my phone while perusing through the sections.
What stands out to readers in a neighborhood bookstore is the opportunity to discover a new read without algorithms or programming. Neighborhood bookstores like Mercer Street Books & Records offer a rare escape to solitude without enduring hours of travel to connect with yourself by leaving the city limits. To all the aspiring writers, bookstores give you a place to chat with other book enthusiasts about what they’re reading now and what you should be reading next.
All of the books inside Mercer are reasonably priced and showcase decades of literature. The different sections from biographies to science clump together in an endless array of information.
The cashier sets the tone of the store’s atmosphere as well. His demeanor is always quiet and observant yet appreciative of each purchase. As with other conversations that happen between book lovers who come in and out, his knowledge of the thousands of books decorating the shelves is unmatched. Person-to-person contact in this city can seem intimidating for some, but the comfort of the stacks makes it easy.
Mercer is where I developed a new love for Toni Morrison novels. Reading her work outside of a classroom environment during quiet evenings in my dorm ignited a fire in me to want to write fiction again. Even after leaving the store, finding the book destined for your shelf brings you a sense of calmness in your own space. Thank you, Mercer Books, for constantly reminding me why I came to this city and giving me something to cherish while I’m here.
A version of this article appears in the Tuesday, Feb. 18, 2020, print edition. Email Destine Manson at [email protected]