It’s not what you’re thinking.
The title of this post does not refer to a corner bookstore, but to The Corner Bookstore. Celebrating independent bookstores all over the country is one mission of The Book Under Her Bed, and The Corner Bookstore is my local indie. Just for today let’s allow it to stand in for—be the exemplar of—all local indies, though of course it is unique, as every independent bookstore is.
The Corner Bookstore, which opened its doors in 1978, sits on the southeast corner of Madison Avenue and Ninety-third Street in Manhattan. The small brick-and-brownstone building had been home to a pharmacy for nearly fifty years, and the couple that bought the building in 1976 seized the moment to turn it into what they loved and the neighborhood—Carnegie Hill—needed: a general-interest bookstore.
They restored the beautiful interior features: terrazzo floor, stamped tin ceiling, elegant wood cabinetry. There’s even a bell over the door, so it feels like old New York at the same time it offers the most up-to-the-minute books and services.
The exterior, restored in its turn, also feels like a bit of old New York, warmed by the bright red geraniums on a ledge over the frontage and in the windows. When you step from the sidewalk into the store, it’s like stepping into a refuge—safe and calm, quiet and full of possibilities.
Wait, that’s not quite right. It’s quiet and calm only for the minutes between whooshes of customers of all ages. That central area you see in the photo above is for children: it holds a fleet of those little wheelie stools you see in libraries, and after school and all weekend there are kids sitting on them (and on the floor), reading. Also talking and laughing and not being quiet at all. It’s a bookstore, not a library.
One very special thing about TCB: Parents can open accounts for their kids. Then the kids can go into the bookstore any old time and choose their own books. Which brings us to the other special services we love about TCB—and there are a lot of them, including treats for your dog.
1. The most important service is the staff itself: dedicated readers themselves, they guide and recommend with—in my experience—complete reliability. They’ve helped me pick out perfect birthday gifts for friends and relatives when I didn’t have the slightest idea what to choose. Describe the giftee, and the right book is forthcoming. Same thing works if it’s you buying for you. In fact, some customers have go-to staff members who know them and recommend regularly for them.
2. Once you decide on a gift book, TCB will wrap it (lots of paper options, including seasonal ones, plus a gift card and a TCB bookmark tucked into the book) and either deliver it if the giftee lives in the designated area or send it by UPS. Fast.
3. Of course you can have your own account at TCB (I do) and call in any order you like or browse and put your new books right onto your account. But even if you haven’t gotten around to setting up an account, you can still call in and order whatever you need.
4. Want a book TCB doesn’t happen to have? They’ll special-order it for you, and you’ll usually have it within a couple of days. Even oddball things like poetry from small presses or out-of-print books. They’ll go the distance for you.
5. They make gift baskets. I dream of a gift basket full of books. Forget jams and cheeses: books!
6. But for my birthday this year I received the next-best thing: a gift certificate from TCB.
7. TCB holds lots of book events, sometimes a few per week, sometimes a few per month. Readings, interviews, conversations—it’s all about local authors: New-York-based writers and their friends. Ex-New-Yorkers with a lot of New York friends are big draws too. Recently the entire Girl Group went to the launch of member Geralyn Lucas’s new book Then Came Life, at The Corner Bookstore. (It was spectacularly attended, with food produced by former GG member Ngan Nguyen.)
TCB also handles the book sales when The New York Society Library does a book event, which makes life easier for the library and is very good for the authors who speak there.
Chris is the long-time manager of The Corner Bookstore, and he says, “Twenty-six years at the bookstore and I still want to get out of bed and go to work.” That’s saying a lot.
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SIDEBAR: I regret the need to mention this—I wish you’d simply trust me—but it’s better to be perfectly clear: The Corner Bookstore had nothing to do with my writing this post. They didn’t ask me to do it or pay me to do it or reward me for doing it. They’re innocent; I’m guilty—of loving my local indie, wanting to share it with you, and hoping you’ll support your local independent bookstore.
DON’T MISS THIS: There’s a great article on the website of an indie called Rainy Day Books, in Fairway, KS. It’s “Why Shop Indie?” Just in case you need to know more.
FYI / Independent Bookstores from Coast to Coast
Water Street Bookstore, Exeter, NH
Montana Book & Toy Co., Helena, MT
Fountain Bookstore, Richmond, VA