We forgot to wish the Strand Bookstore a happy 80th birthday on June 2nd. Sorry, Strand, we didnt exist then!
As the Barnes & Nobles and Borders of the world become clogged with eager bookbuyers (purchasing the new Harry Potter book, natch), its very refreshing that this independent bookseller is still going strong, with a satellite branch downtown and a bustling outdoor vendor at the edge of Central Park.
However its the quite insane main branch that people wax with either extreme fondness or irritation. On Saturday afternoons, the store has more customers than books, and keep in mind this is the place that advertises it has “18 miles of books.”
Benjamin Brass opened the Strand in 1927. What you may not know is that its present location on 12th and Broadway was not where it originated.
Fourth Avenue (yes kids, there really is a Fourth Avenue) used to be home to Book Row, a string of independent bookstores just below Union Square that thrived from the 1890s to the 1960s and must have been nirvana for bookworms and intellectuals. In addition to the Strand, the Argosy Book Store uptown got its start here as well, and is proudly the oldest lasting bookstore from the Row, older than even the Strand, at 82 years strong.
Nothing remains of this imposing line of shops, however a couple curmudgeonly old bookstores, 12st St Books and the Alabaster Bookstore, keep the ghosts alive — and offers a respite from the Strand crowds on the weekends.
Marvin Mondlin and Roy Meador have written a heartfelt reminiscence of the old Book Row that’s definitely worth a look. And you can probably pick it up….at the Strand!