52 Prince Street, New York, NY
In the heart of Soho’s cobbled streets and chic high-end clothiers, there’s an equally glossy and glass-encased bookshop that has a surprising number of works by indie authors and poets waiting within. First impressions, though, make the shop seem very au courant, with swaths of art books and large sections dedicated to photography, design, architecture, art, fashion, and other stylish topics. But until you start digging into the fiction, literature, and poetry, you don’t see the whole story.
Yes, McNally Jackson has your usual new stock in mystery, children’s, crime, sci-fi, and fantasy downstairs, but the literature section on the main floor is the real powerhouse section you'll want to focus on. It's expansive and broken down into sections I don’t see in many shops, like works by French, Irish, African, Mediterranean, and Russian authors, among other nationalities and identities. It certainly made for a different and enjoyable browsing experience. Yes there are still general fiction sections, with a smattering of books by small press authors throughout (I spotted Bud Smith a couple of times, a personal favorite.) and the real treat was the poetry section, with a bunch of chapbooks—yes, stapled and folded chapbooks—by a number of poets I’ve seen all over the small press scene. It’s awesome to have that kind of support by such a popular and established bookshop.
And the shop was certainly popular the day I went, with a full crowd at the café, all drinking coffee and working away with tablets and laptops. The store also has a vibrant magazine section with a bunch of literary options as well, and partway down the stairs is a discounted section with half-price books by enough notable and famous authors to definitely make it worth your while. I found a section dedicated to letters, memoirs, and interviews too, where I grabbed a book containing what is said to be Hunter S Thompson’s final interview, an absolute steal at any price.
I left with a couple titles and was happy to see a shop supporting indie so many authors. McNally Jackson may or may not be easy on your wallet, depending on what you're looking for, but it’s a fun experience all the same.
Atmosphere — A bright, stylish shop catering to the more literary-minded bookwork while still covering all the basics and then some. Often bustling, this shop is a book lover’s landmark in this swanky part of Manhattan.
Quality — The books are new so the quality is high.
Quantity — With two floors to explore, you’ll be busy browsing all afternoon, and there are a lot more styles represented than I expected.
Diversity — The shop is a supporter of the small press and has a lot of indie and local writers represented in the poetry and fiction section. There are also sections dedicated to writers of different nationalities and backgrounds, broken down into subgroups not often seen in other shops. High marks for diversity.
Affordability — While most of the books have the usual new book price, there’s a small section downstairs for discounted titles, including many recognizable and famous authors, not just castaway overstock. It’s no bargain basement experience though, so try not to take too deep a hit to the wallet.
Amenities — The shop has tables and benches downstairs and a café upstairs for coffee, pastries, etc. You can read, browse, drink, work, spend a whole afternoon here. They also host a steady stream of author events.
Location — Just a couple blocks from a few subway stops in Soho, a trendy and tourist-heavy section of Manhattan.
Customer Service — The staff were busy but efficient, and left me alone to shop until I needed to check out.
Overall — This high-end shop covers a ton of bases, from pristine art and architecture coffee table books to indie chapbooks and sections dedicated to French, Middle Eastern, or Russian writers. The array of styles and topics represented is impressive. With the café, discounted books, and the literary bent, this shop scores high marks all around.