The solitary pleasures of browsing books in New York City

Is there anything more irresistible than stopping to browse the outdoor tables of castoffs and curiosities at a New York City bookstore?

It’s an activity that city residents have enjoyed probably since books became mass market products. And unlike many things New Yorkers do, this one is generally solitary.

The highest concentration of book stores would have been along Book Row, on Fourth Avenue between Astor Place and Union Square. This stretch became the bibliophile center of Manhattan in the early 1900s and continued for decades. (Above, a second-hand bookstore on Fourth Avenue and Ninth Street in 1940).

New and used bookstores sprang up in this quarter-mile strip (above, Mosk’s at Astor Place in 1935), allowing literary-minded New Yorkers to spend a few minutes, a lunch hour, or an entire afternoon flipping through pages.

Of course, Book Row has pretty much vanished except for the Strand. And bookstores like these exist across Manhattan, supported by book lovers even in an era when reading generally means downloading onto a screen.

The last two bookstore images are also part of Book Row, but their names are either hard to make out or lost to history.

But even seeing the photos of books and browsers on a random city sidewalk brings on excitement. Wouldn’t you love to go back in time and see what treasures await in those outdoor shelves?

[Top image: MCNY 80.102.136; second image: MCNY 2003.25.101; third and fourth images: NYPL]

Tags: , , , , ,

14 Responses to “The solitary pleasures of browsing books in New York City”

  1. Larry Gertner Says:

    Hey, don’t forget Alabaster Books, the only survivor on Fourth Avenue itself; Strand is on Broadway.

  2. Mykola Mick Dementiuk Says:

    When I was a kid used to drift in and out of the shops on Booksellers Row but usually the store owner would chase us out. Didn’t know what the big thing about books was… I suppose now I do but now I have to compete with lifeless eBooks.

  3. Bob Says:

    The last picture is also Biblo & Tannen, but looking east (instead of west) along E 9th Street.

    New York Times: “Publishing: Last Chapter in Biblo & Tannen Story”

  4. Storm Says:

    I wish I could travel back in time and peruse through their books

  5. Beth Says:

    Not in this area but also an old school-type bookstore is Argosy Books on East 59th Street. They own their building and are going nowhere, for the time being.

  6. judith sokoloff Says:

    There’s still a used bookshop on that strip. Alabaster Bookshop. 122 Park Av. Judith

    On Mon, May 24, 2021, 4:22 AM Ephemeral New York wrote:

    > ephemeralnewyork posted: ” Is there anything more irresistible than > stopping to browse the outdoor tables of castoffs and curiosities at a New > York City bookstore? It’s an activity that city residents have enjoyed > probably since books became mass market products. And unlike” >

  7. The solitary pleasures of browsing books in New York City — Ephemeral New York – yellow in grey Says:

    […] The solitary pleasures of browsing books in New York City — Ephemeral New York […]

  8. velovixen Says:

    I think I moved back to New York just in time (ca 1983) to see Book Row in all its glory. It’s funny: The Strand was where you went if you were a tourist or selling books, but the other shops that lined Fourth Avenue–or, more precisely, the tables and stalls outside those stores–were where the real book-browsers hovered.

    That said, I’m glad the Strand and Alabaster are still there.

  9. Sean Sweeney Says:

    A reason given for why the book stores sprung up there was that on Astor Place there had been several printing companies that specialized in book production. Stores spread up nearby to sell the overproduction, of which there was always some.

  10. Alexei Says:

    Here’s a photo of actor Anthony Perkins on Book Row in the 1950s.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.


%d bloggers like this: