My Top Three Independent Bookstores in New York City

Why These Are My Favourite
Home  |  Blog   |  My Top Three Independent Bookstores in New York City

My Top Three Independent Bookstores in New York City

My Top Three Independent Bookstores in New York City

New York is a fantastic city; there’s no denying that. From the skyline to the bright lights

of Broadway, from the ‘everything’ bagel to the 60+ Michelin star restaurants, there is something for everybody. However, if you arrive in the middle of a pandemic, the reality is quite different. The bright lights are unplugged, and many of the stores and cafes are closed. That was the reality when I arrived in 2020, an unfamiliar city, communities ravaged by COVID-19. However, some months after my arrival, I began to see a crack of light and witnessed the gradual reopening. 

When I feel uncomfortable or anxious, I reach for a book, and during 2020, my list of ‘must-read’ books tripled. Thankfully, this is a city full of unique independent bookstores in need of our support. Here are my top three.

Strand Book Store – 828 Broadway and 12th Street

Founded in 1927 by Ben Bass, The Strand is an institution. Named after the street in London where avant-garde writers such as Dickens and Thackeray would congregate, The Strand moved from Greenwich Village to its current location in 1957. Some 90 years later, it remains in the hands of the Bass family. 

Whether you’re looking for new, used or rare books, you will be sure to find them amongst the 2.5 million books in stock. From bestselling fiction to classics, from biographies to leather-bound first editions, this store has it all. You can also pick up a literary-related gift or keepsake while you are there. Need a Strand tote to carry home your purchases? Take your pick from the 90+ that are on offer. Need a notebook and pen to track your reading list? You’ll be spoilt for choice. You can even order online for those who don’t yet want to venture out amongst the crowds. 

The staff are very knowledgeable and accommodating and can quickly point you to what you are looking for or suggest a new read to match your taste. There’s even a bargain to be had from the carts outside, and in fine weather, they attract quite a crowd, albeit these days a masked and socially distanced one.

McNally Jackson – 52 Prince Street

A delightful independent book store based in NoLIta, with three sister locations in Williamsburg, Seaport and Brooklyn. It opened in 2004 and is still owned by Sarah McNally, the daughter of the founders of the Canadian McNally Robinson Booksellers. The store’s name references Sarah and her then-husband Christopher Jackson.

On the ground level is an impressive range of fiction and new releases, scattered with ‘staff picks’ and downstairs, the sections and layout of the non-fiction titles allow for easy pickings. Dividing the two floors is a selection of sale books where I can more than happily spend a good 20 minutes browsing – and that’s in addition to the sale books displayed outside the store. My biggest disappointment with this store is that I didn’t find it years ago when it was frequented by the legendary David Bowie. 

I have also visited the store in City Point; a bright, open and welcoming space in a mixed-use multi-functional complex in downtown Brooklyn. Sarah McNally also owns Goods for the Study, two adorable stationery stores where I can happily lose myself for an hour or two before resurfacing with a selection of notebooks, an eclectic collection of pens and a massive smile on my face. 

Argosy Books – 116 East 59th Street

Founded in 1925, Argosy is New York City’s oldest independent bookstore and remains family-owned into its third generation; with a diverse and extensive stock of antiquarian

and out-of-print items situated in an impressive six-floor building in Manhattan. It boasts an enviable VIP customer list, including Franklin D. Roosevelt, Jacqueline Kennedy and Bill Clinton, to name a few. Also, Patti Smith (read my review of M Train here) was an employee back in 1967. I am in awe of the building and its elegant, comforting interior, the setting for several movies and TV programmes. Check out Can you ever forgive me (2018) and The Goldfinch (2019), both of which feature the store. 

It was closed when we arrived in NYC, but an extensive database and excellent search engine ensured that people, like me, could search and purchase books and have them mailed or collected in a few days. Specializing in Americana, first editions and the history of science and medicine, they also have an impressive selection of autographs and antique maps. The inventory is not limited to these areas as they boast thousands of books in many other fields, from Africa to the West Indies and from anatomy to World War II. My partner is a collector of rare and antique books, and it is often hard for me to find such a gift without resorting to extensive online searching. However, all that changed when we moved to NYC as I was able to find an out-of-print book and collect it within a few days.

Thankfully, each of these stores appears (at least outwardly) to have survived the chaos of COVID-19. Each time I’ve visited them over recent months, there has been a steady stream of customers browsing and purchasing.  

I read a New York Times article by Sarah McNally commenting that “it won’t be Amazon or Coronavirus” that kills the independent bookstores but “artificially high rents”. I do hope not. It would be a sad day indeed if independent bookstores were to disappear. Read the full article here.

Visiting NYC? Then you must check out these iconic bookstores.

Want to be the first to know about our latest reviews, interviews, and posts?​ Subscribe to our weekly newsletter! 

Jacqui Hodges

With 30 years of general management experience in the global insurance industry and having lived in 4 countries, Jacqui now spends her time between London and New York where she continues to pursue her passion for writing, food, books and travel.

A Reiki practitioner, yogi and huge animal advocate, her home isn’t complete without a furbaby or three. In addition to being a BooknBrunch contributor, she writes for  industry publications.

Favourite book: To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee.
Favourite brunch dish: avocado toast with tomato and chilli


Nourish by Reshma Shah and Brenda Davis (432 pages)


An Emotion of Great Delight by Tahereh Mafi (256 pages)