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Black Balloon Publishing's Favorite Independent Bookstores In New York City

From Brooklyn to Manhattan, 10 of our staff’s favorite places to buy books.

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One of the great things about New York is the plethora of independent bookstores. The fact that nearly everyone has taken at least one trip to The Strand is indicative of just how alive independent bookselling is in the city. But Strand isn't New York's only independent bookstore destination; there are tons of others that are just waiting for the lit-obsessed to walk in, plop themselves on an armchair and never, ever leave. Here are some of our favorite places to give in to that urge to buy even more books:

1. Freebird Books in Red Hook

Purchased by former customer Peter Miller in 2007, Freebird Books has become an integral part of the Red Hook community. The store sells used books, mostly about New York history and culture, but also features publications from local houses, like Ugly Duckling Presse. Freebird also houses Book Through Bars, an organization that provides literature to prisoners across the country. The bookstore is only open Saturdays and Sundays from 11 to 8 P.M., but it’s definitely worth stopping by — if not for the books, then for the comfortable chairs, frequent reading events and, of course, beer and wine!

2. Alabaster Bookshop in Greenwich Village

Black Balloon’s Managing Director Buzz Poole’s assessment of Alabaster is spot on: “You’ll never find what you’re looking for, but you will almost always find something you need.” The store’s shelves are stuffed with copies of every title you forgot existed. Although there’s no database with which to search for titles, part of the fun is spending so much time looking through the selection that you’ll forget what you came for in the first place. Alabaster boasts rare and first-edition works … and an entire wall of the Twilight series. The store has managed to stay afloat despite competition from its 4th Avenue neighbor, The Strand, and it looks like Alabaster won’t be bending anytime soon; in 2007, the store won The Village Voice’s title of “Best Used Bookstore That’s Not The Strand.”

3. Human Relations Books in Bushwick

“Human relations are difficult, especially for book people,” this store’s website sympathizes. While getting lost in a well-priced used book from the store (or one of the $1 books on a cart outside) might make you a little uncommunicative, Human Relations itself is the type of bookstore that’s actually conducive to social activity. The shelves are organized neatly, there are books on nearly any topic you can think of, and the store hosts a wide range of events, like plays and readings with sound production and animation. If you’re a book lover who never thought human relations could be your thing, you’ve finally found your spot.


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