112 4th Avenue, New York, NY
Just around the corner from the famous Strand bookshop is another store of near equal quality—although not equal quantity, not by a long shot. Even a lot of Manhattanites I’ve spoken to have never visited this “little shop that could,” and I always tell them that the Alabaster Bookstore should be on everyone’s hit list.
Alabaster packs the biggest punch per square foot of any bookshop that I've entered. It’s just one room, smaller than many New York apartments, but it's stuffed with one of the best fiction sections in the city, plus an array of art, poetry, mystery, sci-fi, fantasy, rare books, and a smattering of nonfiction, things like gardening, cooking, political science, etc. They specialize in used books so the price is always right. If Strand doesn’t have it, Alabaster does, and vice versa, making them the best 1-2 punch in the city.
Outside you’ll find a few racks of deeply discounted books and within you’ll find the single staffer reading or click-clacking on a calculator while ringing someone up behind a desk piled with delicate old dime and pulp paperbacks. On the shelf behind is a stack of Bukowski—kept close because Bukowski is the author most thieves target, the staffer told me.
The shop has that old book smell, not too strong, just right, and you’re sure to go home with a book you’ll treasure and an experience you’ll remember long after you leave the shelves behind. It’s not a large shop, but I highly recommend a visit, especially if you’re hunting down excellent fiction at a good price.
Atmosphere — Cozy and small and you may need to maneuver around piles or other browsing customers, but it has that bookshop smell and is the perfect place to spend a half hour.
Quality — The books were used but in good shape, and most were recent publications as well.
Quantity — There’s a lot of great literary fiction, despite the shop being small. The other sections may have a fewer though no less in-depth offerings.
Diversity — The nonfiction is less diverse but you’ll find plenty of fiction, with a nice section of fantasy, sci-fi, noir, and mystery in the very back.
Affordability — The prices are fair for used books, and certainly affordable.
Amenities — Not many, as it’s a smaller, cramped shop, but if you just came to browse you came to the right place.
Location — Right near Union Square, around the block from Strand. It stands near a bunch of eateries and coffee shops.
Customer Service — The staffer was bust at his desk but very polite.
Overall — This excellent shop is small but packs a punch, and you’ll find an excellent selection of fiction with some older books of art and history mixed in. A great value.