New York City is home to wonderful bookstores, but there used to be so many more to choose from – from Coliseum Books, south of Columbus Circle; to Ivy’s Curiosities and Murder Ink on the Upper West Side; to the late St. Mark’s Bookshop in the East Village. By one census, there were 386 bookstores in Manhattan in 1950, including nearly 40 on a six-block stretch of Fourth Avenue. (In comparison, there are fewer than 100 in the city now.) Here’s a look back at a few old favorites.
Dozens of bookstores once lined Fourth Avenue — so many that a 1969 Times article on the area noted, “What Lincoln Center is to music, what Broadway is to theater,” Fourth Avenue “is to rare.” , used and antiquarian books. ” Jack Biblo, a co-owner of Biblo & Tannen’s – seen here around 1940 – recalled the street in 1981 and told The Times: “We were all a little bit quirky. When I started you had an old Russian revolutionary down the street who had a wood stove in the middle of his shop. If he liked you, he would give you a cup of tea. If he didn’t like you, he kicked you out. If he gave you a price and you said you would think about it, he would double the price.”
Lewis H. Michaux left preaching to open his Harlem bookstore, the African National Memorial Bookstore, in 1930, and it remained a fixture in the community — and a center of Black politics and intellectual activity — until it died 44 years later in the It was closed in 1974. “It’s my baby, but it’s too heavy for me,” he told the Times.
The Green Book Shop, seen here in 1969, was one of Fourth Avenue’s mainstays.
In a 1962 Times article, writer Gay Talese spoke to Richard Kasak and Seymour Rubin, the owners of Bookmasters, a Times Square paperback store that was open all night for “literate insomniacs.” Talese wrote: “Before Messrs. Kasak and Rubin decided to open Bookmasters alongside the grindhouses of Broadway, they were warned by friends that the only way for a bookstore in the area to survive was to sell pornography, girlie magazines and detective thrillers sell.” Kasak said to Talese, “Well, we’ve proved that’s not the case. We don’t have a single pornographic book in this shop. You know, 42nd Street isn’t as bad as people say it is. It’s not as bad as Greenwich Village. There you have these Bronx maniacs looking for a good time; these college kids are losing control. I feel a lot safer on the 42nd than in the Village.”
John Moore (left) and Kanya Ke’Kumbha at the Tree of Life Bookstore on 125th Street in Harlem in 1976. The store carried books on metaphysics, astrology, herbalism and the occult and was also called UCLA, for University at the Corner of Lenox Allee . “That is our goal,” Ke’Kumbha told The Times in 1976, “to raise awareness in our community.”
The Manhattan branch of A Different Light, a legendary gay bookstore chain, closed in 2001. In 1993, the company’s president and co-owner, Norman Laurila, told the Times that while some gay literature might find its way to mainstream retailers, its stores’ roles were as a cheerleader, social hub, and political pulse-taker for the gay book-reading community ” could not be repeated.
The Doubleday Book Shop, seen here in 1972, was located at Fifth Avenue and 56th Street. In a 2006 Times article, Dan Kois wrote, “A particular attraction of Doubleday was that it stayed open until 11 p.m., which reminded writer Fran Lebowitz of a time when ‘Midtown was for New Yorkers, not just for tourists; You could go there late at night and pick everything up.’”
One of the city’s most famous literary fishing spots, the Gotham Book Mart had several locations in the West ’40s. When the store’s founder, Frances Steloff, turned 85 in 1972, she showed a Times reporter around and pointed to a shelf and said, “That’s why I’m still here, rather than sunbathing in Florida — to get more of it.” Books in the hands of young people.”
George Rubin, seen here in the window of his Fourth Avenue bookstore, told The Times in 1969 that he remained optimistic about the bookselling business. Books are part of education, he said, and “education will never stop.”
Tina Jordan is the associate editor of the book review. Erica Ackerberg is picture editor at The Times.