Like any good bookstore, The Strand offers plenty of books in a variety of interests reflective of the customers it has. In such a diverse city where people take interest in all types of things, it is crucial for the bookstore to be able to supply the materials necessary to satisfy these intellectual cravings. The Strand, with its extensive collection, succeeds in doing that. Like New York City, The Strand offers a space where people of all interests can interact and explore something different while still providing an atmosphere that feels like home. In chapter ten, titled “On Collecting Art and Culture,” of his book The Predicament of Culture, James Clifford writes that collecting is a “probably universal” habit, though “the idea that identity is a kind of wealth (of objects, knowledge, memories, experience)” is not universal, but more of a Western idea. With other cultures, such as in Melanesia, collecting objects is done “to give them away, to redistribute.” (Clifford, 218) It can be argued, then, that bookstores have a way of doing both- of creating an identity based off of their collections but for the purpose of redistributing.
In Tim Cresswell’s book, Place: A Short Introduction, he calls for readers to think about the way in which we use the word place every day. He goes on to explain that our usage of the term “suggests ownership or some type of connection between a person or a particular location or building.” If someone were to say, for example, “The Strand is a nice place,” Creswell explains that this “suggests something of the way it looks and what it is like to be there.” (Creswell, 1-2) With this in mind, by taking a look at the collection of books The Strand offers and the way in which they are arranged, we are better able to understand what type of place this bookstore is trying to be.
Upon entering the store, one may be immediately overwhelmed by the amount of books at the ready to be picked up and paged through. The layout of the store gives the impression that there is so much to see that one must at least try to see it all, leading curious customers to explore sections that they might not otherwise venture in to, though sometimes accidentally.
The front of the store may seem pretty typical with a brief glance at the floor plan I’ve sketched out. Bestsellers, New Arrivals and Popular Fiction are located near the entrance along with the current or upcoming holiday-themed stand. But, The Strand is so much more than meets the eye- my sketch does not do it justice. Venturing further into the store, customers will find a Banned Books section near the Popular Fiction as well as a massive Poetry section and tables of “Underground” Books. Unlike chain bookstores which primarily focus on selling what’s popular, The Strand caters to a wide range of interests. The store does not disregard those who enjoy bestsellers, which elitists might say are of lesser value, but rather it invites this audience in by providing these bestsellers and popular fiction, while giving them an environment to explore a wider range of books. The same goes with those who like to disregard the bestsellers. The Strand is saying, it’s ok to enjoy what you enjoy, but maybe you will enjoy these other books, too.
Again, it’s too tempting to not explore at least the rest of the first floor. After entering, most people will be inclined to go away from the registers first, toward the right side of the store. From there, they will most likely be drawn to another nearby section, moving further back throughout the store until they wind up walking toward the registers, perhaps drawn there with the desire to purchase something, to double-back to something that had previously caught their eye, or to find the stairs to continue exploring the upper levels.
In her book Reluctant Capitalists, Laura Miller writes, “A locally owned and operated store is directly dependent on the goodwill of local residents and cannot risk alienating large parts of the community… The store proprietor knows that the fate of her entire business is tied to the future of that community.” (Miller, 26) This idea is clearly incorporated into the layout and stock of The Strand, but is perhaps most evident on the second floor.
As you can begin to see from my sketch, the second floor is home to thousands of young adult, children’s, and various types of art books. While downstairs caters to a more general population of New York City, the second floor is for specific types of people. As New York City is a very popular place for artists of all types to reside in or frequent, I suppose I should not have been as surprised as I was to find such a wide selection of books. It is evident that The Strand does not want to alienate any type of artist. The store welcomes and enjoys supplying books for painters, dancers, photographers, architects, fashion designers, and even crafters. Non-artists are, of course, also welcome. During my visit, I noticed another customer had even brought his Schnauzer!
The Third floor is a little different. The fact that there are no stairs to this level suggests a knowledge of the fact that there’s a certain type of person that will be interested in going up there, though everyone should at least take a peek.
Some customers might feel uncomfortable on this floor because it may be the area of the store where the stock of books isn’t quite within their reach, either intellectually or financially. The books are more expensive here and may tend to be more of collector’s items than for the pleasure of reading. This is possibly enough to make those who are just exploring the third floor feel as if they shouldn’t be there. However, no one actually seems to mind any of the browsers. My sketch shows comfy armchairs to the left of the store when exiting the elevator, whereas throughout the rest of the store the chairs are less inviting. Perhaps this is an attempt to compensate for any discomfort. It’s a way for the store to tell customers it’s okay to be here and even stay for a little while.
Throughout each level of the store, you may notice that sections such as Sci-Fi, Sports, and Graphic novels end up being located in corners, suggesting that these may not be the most popular sections, but those who are looking for them will find them. If not, there are information desks on each floor and signs everywhere telling customers to “Ask Us!” A recent Publisher’s Weekly article even announced a new in-store positioning-based marketing technique being implementing at The Strand in order to connect with customers and “build the Strand brand-” which is ultimately and thus far recognized as a friendly, interesting place welcoming of all types of book-lovers.
ThingLink images taken with personal camera
Clifford, James. “On Collecting Art and Culture.” The Predicament of Culture: Twentieth-century Ethnography, Literature, and Art. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 1988. 215-51. Print.
Cresswell, Tim. Place: A Short Introduction. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2004. Print.
Miller, Laura J. Reluctant Capitalists: Bookselling and the Culture of Consumption. Chicago: U of Chicago, 2006. Print.