A Bookbuyer’s Guide to Lower Manhattan


Alabaster sports a display of rare items and first-edition books. (Courtesy of Instagram)

For the ardent consumer, Lower Manhattan has a bit of everything. There are few places on the planet where there are such a variety of things for sale in a small area, and books are no exception. The average Fordham bibliophile might be tempted, either by price or convenience, to make their first book-shopping venue choice a chain bookstore with which they are familiar, or skip the trip entirely and just go online. But by doing so, you miss out on one of the great literary pleasures of life: the bookstores of Lower Manhattan.

At first glance, the sheer number of bookshops may seem overwhelming. Here in this guide, however, we have prepared a tour of some of the finest bookstores that Lower Manhattan has to offer, all conveniently arranged so they are no more than a mile apart from one another. 

To begin your scholastic journey, take a trip downtown, near Union Square Park, to visit the bookseller behemoth The Strand. If you’re a book-lover and you haven’t visited The Strand yet, then you’re doing something wrong. The legendary 95-year-old bookstore with 18 miles of shelving is New York City’s preeminent bookstore and possibly the country’s as well. Not only is the selection diverse and excellent, the prices are often cheaper than anything you’d find online, making for a great bargain in the process. Even if you don’t buy anything, The Strand is worth visiting just to get a chance to stand inside one of the city’s greatest monuments to literature. 

A few stores away from The Strand is Forbidden Planet, a specialist store right out of nerd heaven. Boasting an impressive selection of comics and graphic novels from all genres, Forbidden Planet also sells collectibles and accessories from all your favorite media. Whether you want to read up on your favorite superhero before their next movie comes out or to find the next edition of “Heartstopper” before season two is released, Forbidden Planet is the perfect place to get your graphic fix. 

A short walk away from the Strand and Forbidden Planet is Alabaster Bookshop, a quaint used bookstore on Fourth Avenue, an homage to New York City’s Book Row district. The shop is small, but there is not an inch of space wasted within its walls. The used and rare bookshop has an impressive collection of titles that spans over a variety of genres. Outside the storefront, there are parked carts of books for $2 each. Although the carts are not organized in a very clear way, there are some great titles if you can spare the time to look through them. Just beyond the carts, Alabaster’s windows display its collection of rare books, compiled of first editions and signed copies of beloved classics. Alabaster welcomes its visitors with shelves and stacks of books. Although there are books covering every spare inch, the titles are organized by genre and author, a method which is a commodity when it comes to used bookstores. 

Books of Wonder is a children’s bookstore on 17th Street, a short walk away from the famous five-story Barnes & Noble bookstore in Union Square (a store which, though omitted from this article, is definitely worth the visit). Although the shop primarily sells children’s and middle-grade books, there is a small young adult section with popular authors like Casey McQuiston and Leigh Bardugo. What really stands out about this bookstore, however, is its film history. The shop served as an inspiration for the children’s bookshop featured in “You’ve Got Mail,” and rumor has it that Meg Ryan spent a day working there while training for her role.  Although many adults may pass over the store, it’s a perfect place to stop, wander and reflect. Browsing around the shop is like taking a trip back in time, remembering the stories that have shaped us into who we are today. 

After visiting the bookshops surrounding Union Square Park, there are a few more that are a quick subway ride away. Heading a few stops farther downtown, you can find Mercer Street Books and Record, a used bookstore with an eclectic collection. While perhaps not the most organized of shops on this list, Mercer’s chaotic interior is home to books of all shapes and sizes, at prices that are hard to beat anywhere else. There’s a lofty collection of books with a seemingly infinite number of categories — if you’ve ever wanted to learn the art of card tricks, Mercer has an entire section of books that will help you do so.

McNally Jackson Books on Prince Street is one of the store’s four locations in New York City. The store spans over two floors and features a beautiful display on the first floor. The walls of the room are covered in pages from books, and colorful covers float overhead as they hang from the ceiling. Compared to many of the bookstores listed, McNally Jackson is probably the most expensive, as there is no used book section in the store. However, the space is beautiful, even if just to browse around, and supporting an independent bookstore is always preferable to online shopping. There is a sale section between the first and second floors for those who are looking for a bargain, but the bright and open space is ideal to window shop.

It’s an understatement to say that Lower Manhattan has a lot of options. And luckily, with so many of them right next to each other, you don’t have to pick and choose which to visit. These six shops are so close to each other that visiting them all in a few short hours is more than manageable (though you can feel free to dedicate your whole day to browsing through shelves… we’ve done it, too).