As a New Yorker who takes public transportation to and from my job, I always see people from all walks of life carrying yellow and red bags with THE STRAND in big letters on them. I’ve heard of the bookstore before, but never went inside, so yesterday before my shift started, I decided to head to Union Square and see if the place lives up to the hype. After all, in a post-Borders world where Barnes and Noble is the main brick and mortar seller of books, does a store like the Strand have a fighting chance?
Even though The Strand is right off of Union Square I decided to take the subway to 8th street so I could take in the scenery of Greenwich Village. For those unfamiliar with NYC, Greenwich Village is where the NYU campus dominates the scene and is also home to the priciest real estate in all of New York, and by extension making it the most expensive neighborhood in America (I could be wrong about this, but I doubt it). After walking north up Broadway and arriving at building 828 I was finally at The Strand. I had a great experience, so allow me to share some tips for anyone visiting.
1) Skim those book racks!
Right off the bat, the first thing you’ll see before you even enter are over a dozen racks filled with used books, priced for just a few dollars. I wouldn’t spend all day on them, but skimming them for a few minutes can save you some money.
Case in point: I saw a used copy of Billy Crystal’s memoir on the rack outside, only to see it AGAIN inside for full price! So always skim those racks!
2) Dress Light – It’s hot inside.
Yesterday was pretty mild and I traveled in jeans and a T-Shirt. Still, I could feel myself getting warm the second I walked into the store. I don’t know if it was because there were so many customers milling around or because the place was kinda cramped, but either way, I heard people remarking to each other about how hot it was inside.
3) Prepare yourself. It’s like…book overload in there!
I originally planned to visit The Strand just to look around and see what the place LOOKED LIKE, but there are SO MANY books that I had my face glued to the numerous shelves and tables, scouring their covers in search of a new read or a book on my list that would be cheaper, which brings me to my next point.
4) You WILL buy something.
Even if you’re not me, someone who averages a book a week, it’s pretty hard not to walk out of The Strand with something. To explain why, take a look at my haul, and bear in mind this is from someone who had absolutely NO INTENTION of buying anything because they’re leaving the area in a couple of weeks.
A) Benjamin Franklin: An American Life by Walter Isaacson
I saw this not too far into the store, priced at $8.95 when the kindle version is currently going for $10.44 I jumped out and snatched this off the shelf.
B) The Divide by Matt Taibbi.
Huge fan of Matt’s, both in Rolling Stone and on Real Time with Bill Maher. I’ve read his other book, The Great Derangement years ago and enjoyed it, so I was eager to pick this up when it came out. However, the kindle version has been priced at $14 for some time, so that swayed my hand from my wallet. However, when I saw the paperback of The Divide down in the basement (WHICH DOESN’T EVEN COME OUT UNTIL NEXT WEEK!) and for only $8.50 I grabbed it and laughed to myself, murmuring about how it was “like stealing candy from a baby.” (Just kidding)
C) Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami
Another author I love. I’ve read Wind-up Bird Chronicle, Hardboiled Wonderland and the Edge of the World, and What I Talk about When I Talk about Running, so to see this for only $7.50 I tossed it on the pile.
Does this seem too good to be true? Well…
5) Check more than one copy of the book.
I know this sounds strange but I found the same book with different prices. That Kafka on the Shore title had several copies priced at about $12 but I was able to find one priced for $7.50. When the cashier rang up my purchases, I was sure to double-check and make sure all prices came up accurately.
6) Don’t worry if you overlooked something.
Because you will be back. The Strand isn’t something like the Statue of Liberty where once you’ve visited it, YOU’VE VISITED IT. The Strand boasts having “18 miles of books” and while that may sound like a slick marketing slogan, the sheer VOLUME of titles available will make you a believer. (And an overnight fan) But even so…
7) Remember – It’s not Barnes and Noble.
And that’s not a bad thing. The Strand doesn’t have a café or any prepared food for sale. There’s no little nook to the side where you can sit down with a bunch of books and read. The Strand is basically an indie bookstore on steroids. Not only do they have a dizzying selection spread across 3 floors, they also promote a love of books.
You’ll see T-shirts with quotes saying “If you go home with someone and they don’t have books, don’t f*** them” hanging up for sale everywhere. You’ll see books categorized on the tables in very specific ways such as “real books cheaper than e-books” and books where the staff liked them so much they tattooed a quote onto their arms! Again, it definitely has that small, neighborhood bookstore feel, even though it’s right smack in a high traffic area.
8) But in a way, they ARE like good ol’ B&N
The Strand is in the business of selling books and boy are they busy. I went on a Friday afternoon and the dozen plus staff members were running around on all the floors, helping customers, stocking the shelves, and ringing up the endless line of customers. Also like Barnes and Noble, they host author events as promoted on a small blackboard just outside the entrance.
(Guess who’s coming to town…)
If you’re heading to the NYC area (or have lived there all your life) and you like books even slightly, a trip to The Strand is definitely for you.
These are my eight basic tips. If veterans of the store have any more tips, please feel free to share them in the comments below.
Until next time,
J. F. Seegitz
UPDATE: Because this post attracts spam like a moth to a flame, I have permanently turned the comments OFF.