The past few years have been a sad time for independent bookstores; it seems like a new one closes every day, forced into an early demise by the 40% off rack at Wal-Mart or the clickily convenient Amazon. But with Publishers Weekly predicting a rebound in sales for indie sellers, and the corporate fat cats bottoming out in these rougher economic times, the tide may be about to turn — particularly in New York, where whether because of die-hard neighborhood pride or the proliferation of storefronts too small to house a Barnes & Noble, independent bookstores can still be found scattered around the boroughs — offering everything from highly-specific niche titles to locally-oriented book groups.
In the name of preserving New York’s eclectic entrepreneurial spirit (and hopefully staving off the Big Corporate Bookstore’s reign of terror), I’ll be doing a regular feature wherein I profile a lovely little bookstore in the area — so that you, knowing where they are, might stop in.
Flipping a big old bird to B&N this week is Bluestockings, a boss little store on the Lower East Side that features feminist, activist, queer studies, and other generally anti-establishment titles. (Their website also mentions the availability of “magazines, zines, journals, alternative menstrual products and other oddly hard-to-find good things” — so for those of you who were headed for WalMart because you needed to pick up reading material and tampons, come on over!)
Bluestockings generally doesn’t carry the latest blockbuster bestellers (although if Stephen King ever wrote a thriller on how capitalism reinforces traditional gender roles, they’d almost certainly make an exception), but their niche-y buying strategy means that you can find great books here that other places might not carry, including graphic novels and works by non-American authors. On a recent visit, I found all my required reading from a long-ago college course on French feminist literature in stock… and was startled to realize a) that I had never seen them in any other store, and b) how many of them were really, really good books. Let the staff recommend something — they’re well-read and friendly — and pick up an organic, fair-trade snack from the cafe before they ring you up. You can also stop in almost any night of the week for readings and discussions with progressive authors; the upcoming calendar of events features everything from “Dialogues with World Filmmakers” to a one-man show by Tony Palmieri.
(Oh yeah, and for those nay-sayers who are currently shaking their heads and muttering about commies, don’t miss out on the store’s excellent selection of self-described “smutty fiction” — it sounds like you could use a little, er, sweet release.)
Bluestockings is located at 172 Allen Street, between Stanton and Rivington, on the Lower East Side.