Battle of the Bookshops: Strand in New York
22nd Jun 2011
Strand isn’t just my favourite bookshop; it’s one of my favourite places in the world. But before this gets too warm and fuzzy, I should warn you about store security: it’s Strict. Yes, capital S. Expect to be ambushed as you walk in by a brusque member of staff who will make you check in any large bags (including shopping bags) for collection later.
Suck it up and rationalise it as another quintessential New York experience, because this shop is worth being treated like a criminal for, and there aren’t too many places you can say that about. You don’t go to Strand for the customer service: you go for the books. And boy, do they have books — 18 miles of them, as their awning proudly declares.
Those 18 miles are stacked high and squashed so tightly that when you pull one off a shelf, you usually bring a couple of others with it. This is a proper old-fashioned bookshop with eighty-four years of history.
It’s not glamorous, not a place for plush carpets or soft music or a Starbucks concession. (But there is a toilet near the children’s books, which I really appreciated after three hours or so).
It’s a place for wobbly concrete floors and fluorescent lights. It’s full of character. And it is the best place to buy books. The carts outside are full of second hand books for just a dollar, there’s a rare books room on the third floor, an impressive selection of new books, the aforementioned children’s section, and some fabulous souvenir merchandise on offer.
But the best place in the whole shop is the basement, specifically the ceiling-high metal bookshelves running the width of the basement, where you can find publishers’ excess advance copies for sale at half the RRP.
When I visited, the pound was so strong against the dollar that I got ten brand new hardback books for less than £4 each. (Yes, I had to pay a £25 excess baggage charge and have a “Heavy” sticker placed on my suitcase. It was still worth it.)
If that wasn’t enough, the shop is part of Hollywood history. Movies like Julie & Julia, Unfaithful, and Remember Me have been filmed there, and the shop loans books “by the mile” to productions, including (ironic twist!) the huge chain bookstore in You’ve Got Mail.
Sadly, my bank balance suggests that I won’t be returning in the near future, but until then I’ll keep following Strand on Twitter, mooning over their website, and checking out past author events via their YouTube channel, an idea I’d love to see other bookshops copy.
If you’re lucky enough to be going to New York soon, Strand Bookstore is my top travel tip. Expect to be there a few hours, take just a purse or wallet, brace yourself for cramped conditions (it gets busy), grab one of the little shopping trolleys, and take a list of new releases you’d love to take home with you. You won’t be disappointed.
Guest post by Diane Shipley, a freelance journalist and book obsessive from way back. Find her on Twitter (almost all the time) or her blog.