18 Miles of Books: Something for Everyone
The Strand Bookstore, with its unmistakable red awning, has its main location at 828 Broadway (& 12th Street) in New York City. Nestled in between the borders of Manhattan’s Greenwich Village and East Village (the territory which the store’s location favors) the Strand is home to “18 Miles of New, Used, and Rare” books, as well as to many New Yorkers. According to the 2010 Census, the East Village alone has approximately 24,527 housing units among which their population of roughly 43,755 people live, the majority of them aged from 25-34 years old, and that’s only a portion of the Strand’s potential customers. The Strand has had this location as its home since 1957, when Fred Bass, the son of the store’s original owner Ben, moved the store just around the corner from its original location on Fourth Avenue. The Strand itself has been in business since 1927 and is known as the “Sole survivor of Book Row.”
With its long-standing history, the Strand has been a home to book lovers of all types for around 88 years now. The store carries a little bit of everything for everyone, catering to the diverse interests for those living in or visiting the diverse city of New York. According to Tim Cresswell, the Lower East Side of Manhattan, which East Village is part of, “has been known as a place of successive immigrant groups- Irish, Jewish, German, Italian, Eastern European, Haitian, Puerto Rican, Chinese.” The majority of the East Village’s population, around 42,536 people, identify as one race, while only around 1,219 people identify as two or more races. With approximately 31,859 identifying as Caucasian, East Village is now known to be a predominantly white area. At a significantly lower number, approximately 6,419 people identify as Asian, followed by Hispanic/Latino at around 5,195 and Black/African American at around 2,719. While these are only the top three largest groups, the area is not as diverse as one might have originally thought. Though in the past few years there may have been some changes in these numbers, as they have evolved throughout history, it is not likely that the overall demographics of the area have changed too drastically. While race is not the determining factor of interests or literary preferences, it is, in some cases, one of the many influences that determine the diverse interests of an individual. This is why it’s important for a bookstore in the city to carry a little bit of everything, even outside of books.
The Strand carries other goods such as coffee mugs, totes, and even onesies, though this merchandise tends to remain relevant to literature or to the store. In this regard, the Strand stands firm in its footing as a location for book lovers which many other bookstores throughout history have been unable to do successfully. “Bookstores, in fact, were really the first drugstores, as we know them now,” writes John Tebbel in the first chapter of his book, A History of Book Publishing in the United States. It has proved difficult for bookstores to survive only selling books, especially in locations which require the bookstore to pay a high rent. Luckily for the Strand, a densely populated area is likely to have many readers with many different interests. Plus, when the surrounding area is taken into consideration, it is clear to see certain connections throughout the community which allow the store to thrive, as well as some which may not.
New York University and The Cooper Union, both in relatively close proximity to the Strand, are home to thousands of bright-eyed students craving knowledge. Without a doubt, the relationship between the schools and the Strand is a symbiotic one. The students bring business; The Strand houses a plethora of knowledge-filled books, ready to be cracked open. On the other hand, Barnes and Noble is just a tad farther and university students may feel more comfortable in the familiar, standardized setting that it has to offer. According to Laura J. Miller, author of Reluctant Capitalists, Bookselling and the Culture of Consumption, chain bookstores such as Barnes and Noble or Waldenbooks “communicated that they were informal places welcome to all by standardizing the interiors from one outlet to another.”
Though the Strand may offer a multitude of books for many different people, some may still find it intimidating due to its atmosphere and size, and may instead choose to go the extra distance to Barnes and Noble. “Because of a continuing association of books with education and an attendant stratification system,” writes Miller, “any bookstore is vulnerable to being perceived as an elite enterprise.” It is possible that some may shy away from the Strand then, with its determination to claim its identity as a store for lovers of literature. Or, some may simply stick to perusing the discount racks outside where they feel more comfortable. Regardless, the Strand seems to have remained an integral part of the community and probably won’t be going anywhere anytime soon. Customers can peruse the many aisles at their leisure or stop by for one of the many events being held. They can even request to host one of their own. While in the area, they can check out Second Hand Rose Music to go along with their new (or used) books and grab a bite to eat at one of the many restaurants in the area, offering a vast range of food types from Asian to Mexican and everything in between. The Strand, despite any competition, is a home within a home for book lovers of all types, and is probably more welcoming than those who are intimidated by it believe it to be.
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.
Tebbel, John. “A Brief Hisory of American Bookselling.” A History of Book Publishing in the United States. New York: R.R. Bowker, 1972. 7. Print.