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Molasses Books
Photograph: Lizz Kuehl

The best independent bookstores in NYC

Support independent bookstores in NYC by paying a visit to our favorite local purveyors of new, used and specialty books

By Marion Bernstein

Along with its vast selection of excellent museums, NYC is known for having some of the best bookstores ever. And if you're looking for new, used, rare and specialty favorites, these shops will certainly have some special surprises for you. Our city’s known for housing some of the best NYC authors, such as Patti Smith, Ariel Levy and Herman Melville, and at these stores, you can find their works along with everything from feminist anthologies to foreign screenplays. 

RECOMMENDED: Full guide to shopping in NYC

Best independent bookstores in NYC

1. Bluestockings

Shopping Bookstores Lower East Side

A derivative of the 18th century Blue Stocking Society—an English collective established to promote literature written for women, by women—this volunteer-powered bookstore, activist center and fair trade cafe stays true to its eponym housing over 6,000 titles on feminism, sexuality, anarchism, social justice and queer and gender studies. There’s even a case devoted to alternative menstrual products, affectionately labeled “BSTOX.” Check the events calendar for nightly readings, workshops, performances, discussions and films.

Photograph: Lizz Kuehl

2. Molasses Books

Shopping Bookstores Bushwick

Not only does this indie gem offer better prices than your average bookstore, it also lets you barter with used books at the bar—that’s right, you can trade in your vintage tomes for coffee, tea, beer or wine. Outside, you’ll find stacks of $1 deals, while inside you can peruse lofty white shelves sardined with second-hand copies of occult, sexuality, art, film and fiction titles as well as local zines. Cozy window nooks encourage patrons to slow down and linger a while (as the name suggests), and if you stay late, go ahead and reward yourself with a happy hour beverage—wines are just $5 from 6 to 8pm.

Photograph: Courtesy Yelp/Michelle P.

3. Bonnie Slotnick Cookbooks

Shopping Bookstores East Village

Follow the stark white sign that says “Cookbooks,” and a few steps down you’ll be immersed in owner Bonnie Slotnick’s well-curated world of antique housewares, vintage greeting cards and out-of-print and antiquarian cookbooks. Several restful reading tables can be found throughout the spacious store, and when they’re not covered in seasonal culinary guides, you may find yourself in the middle of a moveable feast—Slotnick is known for hosting sporadic food tastings throughout the year.

4. Books Are Magic

Shopping Bookstores Carroll Gardens

Wander the stacks at this atmospheric literary shop hawking a well-curated mix of new and recommended titles. The space also hosts literary readings.

Photograph: Courtesy Yelp/Abdb A.

5. Word Up Books

Shopping Bookstores Washington Heights

Since 2011, this non-profit, completely volunteer-run bookstore has been serving the uptown community with its live readings, spoken word performances and comedy nights. As for the book offerings, bibliophiles can peruse an impressively large Spanish section alongside multiple shelves of politics, social science, art, theatre, film, dance, manga, zines, local authors and small presses. Staying true to its goal of accessibility, prices start at just 50 cents. And there’s sure to be an in-store event every day of the week—just check the online calendar for details.

6. Community Bookstore

Shopping Bookstores Park Slope

This charming sanctuary of knowledge has been a pillar of the Park Slope community since 1971, offering its visitors plenty of popular fiction alongside rare and unique titles on refugees, immigration and New York City history. You can even purchase a piece of motivational zeitgeist in a special section titled “What to read for the resistance.” And if you need a break from politics, say hello to Tiny the shop cat, or sit for a spell in the backyard garden—the antique chairs and vine-lined pond make for an idyllic reading oasis.



Shopping Bookstores Greenpoint

This North Brooklyn newcomer is a safe haven for literary extroverts. Readings and writers’ workshops are held on a weekly basis, and you can sign up for themed book groups covering everything from romance and classics to Gilmore Girls. For those interested in a more solo approach, Word’s upstairs shelves boast loads of fiction, art, design and local interest works. Check the website for best-selling titles and upcoming events.

Codex Books
Photograph: Courtesy Codex Books

8. Codex Books

Shopping Noho

Peruse through a stacked selection of gently-used literature and art books at this lovely shop on Bowery and Bleecker. 


9. Mysterious Bookshop

Shopping Bookstores Financial District

Mounted along a mahogany perimeter of rolling ladders, a cheeky sign reads “Nobody shoplifts from a store that knows 3,214 ways to murder someone”—and given the thousands of true crime, suspense and thriller novels canvassing the walls, we’ll take their word as bond. Browse an impressive selection of Sherlockiana or thumb through stacks of $2 paperbacks. Superfans, keep an eye out for hot-pink tags—they denote signed limited editions.

10. The Drama Book Shop

Shopping Bookstores Midtown West

Founded by the Drama League in 1917, The Drama Book Shop houses a 60-seat black-box basement theater and a knowledgeable staff of theater enthusiasts who will gladly hop on a rolling ladder to navigate multiple shelves of plays, scenes and monologues to help you find your inspiration of choice. Sale table titles start as low as $4, Shakespearean tchotchkes are available in abundance and Lin-Manuel Miranda merch is fully stocked.

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