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When BookCourt in Brooklyn closed its doors after 35 years last winter, best-selling novelist Emma Straub (Modern Lovers), a former employee and Cobble Hill local, decided the neighborhood’s loss was unacceptable. In May, she and her husband, Michael Fusco-Straub, opened their own store, Books Are Magic, a few blocks away. “Bookstores are a part of people’s daily lives,” she says. “What matters is being able to wander in with their dog or in their running clothes and having it be a place they feel belongs to them.” The shop keeps alive BookCourt’s best-loved traditions: readings by a roster of A-list writers and a stellar “staff picks” shelf, now nestled in an old fireplace. There’s even a poetry gumball machine that dispenses watercolored poems for a quarter. Most important, Books Are Magic has star power—Straub herself is often the one behind the counter.
Nowhere is the remarkable comeback of independent bookstores more apparent than in the literary hotbed of Brooklyn, home to more writers per capita than almost anywhere else in the country. Every store is a little different, depending on its location, the owner’s tastes, and his or her various idiosyncrasies. Take Stephanie Valdez and Ezra Goldstein’s 46-year-old Community Bookstore, in Park Slope. Many of the shelves are organized by publishing house, such as Europa Editions, known for Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels. “If I had to tell you the most unique thing, it would be the pond with the turtle,” Valdez says. John Turturtle is named after actor John Turturro, who owns a small slice of Community.
Greenlight Bookstore is one of the borough’s most neighborhood-focused outlets. “It goes back to the way we were funded when we opened [in 2009],” says manager Jarrod Annis. “People who wanted to invest in the bookstore could and did.” Both the Fort Greene and Prospect-Lefferts Gardens locations are tailored to their environs, stocking a large array of writers of color as well as hosting a civic-engagement series.
Co-owners Miles Bellamy and Jonas Kyle of Williamsburg’s Spoonbill & Sugartown offer a quirky selection of titles with a bohemian bent. There are traditional sections like literature and poetry, along with categories that combine several genres, such as “Thought.” The proprietors recently opened a new store in East Williamsburg, where they offer readings and gallery shows.
Even McNally Jackson Books—as beloved as the Strand, near Union Square, or the West Village’s Three Lives—is getting in on the action with plans, as of press time, to debut a Brooklyn outpost this fall. The Williamsburg store will include a hip café and a literature section as sprawling as that of the Prince Street mother ship.