A Strand Vertically Divided

strandThe Strand Bookstore stands tall at 828 Broadway at the corner of East 12th Street, Manhattan, showcasing some aspects of its vast book collection from its sidewalk, leading passersby into its interior space. As customers enter through the Strand’s doors, they are surrounded by its cluttered inventory of books and merchandise. However, not all floors of this bookstore are as sensory-overloading as its first. The different levels of the Strand are physically as well as metaphorically divided between its three floors and basement.

Upon entering the Strand, consumers are met with a room filled to its brim; tables are stacked with merchandise, the Strand’s famous totes and apparel line its walls, while its books appear both on tables scattered throughout the store and on its towering bookshelves, located at the middle and back of the space. Offering an array of books and products, the first floor acts as a public sphere and is usually crowded with a line stretching from the registers. The space is readily accessible by tourists who are interested in purchasing souvenirs or city guidebooks, both of which are conveniently located in the front of the store. Due to the nearly ceiling-high bookshelves which block the views behind them, this floor’s layout does not encourage a heavy flow of traffic beyond the front of the store. Others may travel to the back of the store if they are in search of a particular book. Whatever scenario, the first floor of the Strand is a space with convenience and a purpose. Pictured below is a map of the first floor. Hovering over the image gives further details of the space.

Screen Shot 2015-03-11 at 10.25.24 PMOn the left side of the store are stairs, which lead to the basement and the second floor. The basement contains nonfiction books and bargain books. The second floor is home to the “children’s corner,” young adult, and art books, such as graphic novels and comic books (Strand). Less cluttered and crowed by both merchandise and people, his space emits a kid-friendly environment. Due to the floor’s specific genres, those who are interested in art books or families interested in children’s literature are its target audiences. Children’s events, such as “story time” and character visits are held in this space, which adds to its intimate and accommodating atmosphere to specific audiences.

Traveling to the top of the Strand ladder, the third floor is home to the Rare Book Room, only accessible by elevator. An airy loft-like space with original wooden flooring from 1901, this room can be compared to a living room or library in one’s own home. Using this spatial metaphor to examine the arrangement of the room, it is obvious it is a space that fosters privacy and relaxation, catering to book lovers. Bookshelves line the walls, and tables are scattered throughout the room. Signed copies, rare sets and bindings and limited editions are just a few types of the rare books that the Strand offers. While there is some merchandise, the inventory on this floor is quite limited compared to the first. Large leather chairs are in a corner of the room, inviting customers to sit and peruse over the books they have found. In the back corner of the room, an alcove is situated with two encompassing bookshelves and a window with draping curtains, which reinforces the Strand’s encouragement for customers to take their time and feel at home. These aspects of the room and others can be further explored by hovering over the floor map below.

Since the Rare Book Room is only reachable by elevator, those who visit this floor choose to do so in a deliberate manner. As customers step into the elevator, they literally rise above the chaos and crowd that encompasses the first floor. The employees of the third floor are trained and knowledgeable of the current rare book inventory, and in this less cluttered and more comfortable space, they are more easily approachable and accessible to customers. Obviously, the rare books are more expensive than the other books in the store. The top floor of the Strand symbolizes literary supremacy – that is, it is both physically and metaphorically situated above the other floors. Screen Shot 2015-03-10 at 9.53.42 PM Screen Shot 2015-03-11 at 9.58.43 PM Pictured above are two photos of the Rare Book Room accommodating parties and events. According to the Strand’s website, “We invite you to rent our rare book room, either to please or to educate, or to explore the worldly issues of the day” (Strand). Under these guidelines, the room must be used for specific educational/literary events. This reinforces the Strand’s ability to design the third floor as an intimate space of knowledge, just like a room in one’s own home. To borrow an insight from Jack Perry about space, he writes of Scribner’s Bookstore, “The bookstore’s old wood, it’s high ceiling, the feel of the leather volumes…made us feel at home, convinced us that literature was alive…” (Perry 107). This notion can be applied to the space of the third floor of the Strand. Not only does its layout and decor make customers feel at home, but its selection of rare books holds greater implications. These books have history and value that the mass-produced best sellers on the first floor do not. The rare books alone offer an aura of uniqueness, personally connecting to each customer. The Strand’s physical space can be read just like a book. Separated by floor, it is important to note how the store’s inventory differs. To further explore this idea, Bruno Latour notes that the origin of the word “thing” has a strong connection with quasi-judiciary assembly. He writes, “A thing is, in one sense, an object out there, and, in another sense, an issue very much in there…a gathering…the same word thing designates matters of fact and matters of concern” (2288). The mass-produced merchandise and inventory located in the basement, first and second floors are merely objects with no sentimental attachments. However, the third floor holds things: rare books that are matters of concern, as well as events, or gatherings, that must foster knowledge in some way. The store’s spatial narrative shows how each floor is specifically designed for different groups of people. How would the Strand’s narrative change if its inventory of objects and things were changed and displayed on different floors?

Sources

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