One Does Not Simply Walk Into The Strand
If there is one thing universally known about the Strand, it is that if you were to lay every book in the store down in a row, you would come out with over 18 miles of books. To hold such a mass collection, a store must be equally as big. Taking up its own city block in New York City, walking into the Strand is probably an overwhelming experience for many first timers. However, there are many things that the Strand does to make their customers feel at home, despite its tremendous size. One simply does not walk into the Strand simply to become lost and confused. The mix of well versed employees and the strands own interesting kind of organization can help even the less experience find the book that they will take home.
Not only does the Strand provide books to the book loving customer, it also provides a wide variety of products for their customers to take home, even ones you would not expect in a bookstore. The Strand sells a variety of movies, CDs and even vinyls, something that many of the larger bookshops have started to stock. What makes the Strand stand out is that they sell a huge variety of their own merchandise. Totes and clothing with the Strand logo on them are well stocked throughout the store, along with stationary, shot glasses, moleskin notebooks, calendars, posters, etc all with the Strand logo on them.
In a surprising move, most of this merchandise is in the very front of the store, right near the entrance. I found this choice to actually be rather odd considering that the main thing that the Strand is known for is being a bookstore. Walking right in will land you right next to many tables and walls stacked high with shirts and totes and all the other kinds of merchandise mentioned before. Apart from that, their merchandise is placed all around the store, just waiting to be bought by the loyal Strand customer. Though to be fair to the Strand, the outside sidewalk is completely filled with stacks and stacks of bargain books.
Once a person manages to get past the merchandise on the first floor, then the true book buying adventure will begin. The first floor is mostly filled with fiction and bestsellers. Though the choice to put the bestsellers front and center is not a surprising choice (Yay for living in a capitalistic society!) what follows on the first floor shakes up the normal thought of what would be put front and center. Travel and guide books feature prominently after the bestsellers, and then the books become books about history. Finally, the last section of the first floor of the Strand is dedicated to cookbooks. It is not surprising that so many different genres would be put so near each other, for “As they circulate through our lives, we look through objects (to see what they disclose about history, society, nature, or culture-above all, what they disclose about us)” (Brown).
As seen in the picture, there are many stacks of the different kinds of books (mostly fiction) while tables sit right in the middle. The most traffic of the area definitely goes to the tables, and that is where the best selling books go. Thats makes sense, seeing that grabbing books from an easy to reach and organized table would go a lot smoother than searching through the very tall stacks that go all the way back to the end of the city block. These seem to be centered more at the customer who does not know exactly what they want, and simply have time to look around and browse.
Let us go downstairs to the basement of the Strand. Here in the basement the main focus seems to be nonfiction, as well as more bargain books. This is the place for people looking for a deal who don’t want to stand outside in the sun or in the cold. The catch is that you will be surrounded by even more merchandise. Down here in the basement of the Strand you will find not just general books of nonfiction. The new gardener can find a book about how to create a garden, or a drama student can find a whole shelf dedicated to drama criticism. A person full of wanderlust could find a book about traveling through Europe, or a health freak could find a book about the newest diet.
Walk upstairs to the second floor for a much more visual experience. Here on the second floor is an artists dream, with the main collection being books that have something to do with art. Not just art books, but biographies about artists and art monographs. For the super hero inclined, there are a large collection of graphic novels, and for the younger crowd the is a whole collection of young adult and children books. There is even a whole section with just books on the floor, spread all around. Various other genres, such as erotica and science fiction, also are on the second floor, but the space mainly seems to be dedicated to the more visually inclined.
While studying video and pictures of the Strand, there was one thing I kept noticing. This was not a store where you could find a lot of space toast down, be comfy and read a book. One thing that the Strand does not borrow for the retail stores is the way that the retail stores “combine retail and entertainment space, [which] can be seen in their interior design, which includes comfortable furniture and room for socializing” (Miller 118). This is not entirely surprising, as when you have over eighteen miles of books, the priority for decorating and interior design would be to make as most use of the space for storing books as possible. As I looked though the pictures, I could almost feel the overwhelmingness of the place, and wondered if there was any place that a person could rest.
Luckily, this is achieved with out last floor, the Rare Books Room. The Rare Books room is exactly what it says on the tin. It is a room full of rare editions of books, or books signed by the authors. As there is less of a demand for these expensive books, the Rare Books Room is a great breath of fresh air. While the walls are filled to the brim with these books, but the rest of the space is much more spread out, with chairs to sit on and relax in.
The Rare Books room also helps bring a stronger community aspect to the Strand. As Miller in Reluctant Capitalists says, one of the marks of an independent bookstore is showing that they have “a commitment to their community” (Miller 119). The rare books room is often used to hold events, fundraisers and other types of parties, bringing a community together not just for their love of books, but their love of what the Strand is doing for them. This has become all the more true after the chain retail store Borders closed, making the Strand the largest bookstore in their community.
The First Floor of the Strandhttp://travel-photo.photoshelter.com/image/I0000jS.bG2r..7A
Brown, Bill. “Thing Theory.” Critical Inquiry Vol. 28, No. 1. p 1-22
Print. Miller, Laura J. Reluctant Capitalists: Bookselling and the Culture of Consumption. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2006.