939 Lexington Ave., New York, NY
A weekday morning for a neighborhood bookshop could very well be a quiet affair, but Shakespeare & Co. on the upper east side of Manhattan was humming with guests on a Friday morning in March, though at that early hour, just after ten, most of the patrons were there for the coffee and pastries from their café tucked into the front of the shop. A few people took up chairs in the back to read over their steaming mugs. But I was there for the books, and there were plenty to browse through.
The store is associated with Hunter College, which probably gives them a nice boost for a store otherwise specializing in new bestsellers and recent titles. The college fare can be found downstairs, but I kept my prowling to the main ground floor. The selection felt fairly standard, with a wall of fiction and mysteries on the left and a wall of nonfiction on the right, with themed tables and displays filling the gaps in between. There’s a solid children’s section in the back as well, where I grabbed a few Little Golden Book for my niece. They make handy gifts so I should have picked up more. Next time.
The most unique aspect that sets the shop apart from the competition is the printing press on hand, a machine halfway through the store that stands ready to churn out custom made novels, notebooks, pamphlets, and children’s books, depending on your needs. Want to print out a chapbook of poems or a picture book your kid whipped up at one of the back tables in the children’s nook? This is the shop for you, it seems. I hadn’t seen that before, and it’s a nice touch for those who want to create a one of a kind gift.
Otherwise, the selection was straightforward and dependable, the kind of shop you’d hit if you wanted to skip Barnes & Noble but still want that brand new release from a big name author. The ability to buy a new hardcover and sit right down with a coffee and muffin is a nice amenity too, and plenty of college and high school students were taking advantage of the tables up front. All in all a lively, pleasant shop, though had I found some discounted selections I may have lingered longer and purchased more than just a couple Golden Books.
Atmosphere — This is a combination cafe, bookstore, and textbook outlet for Hunter college, balancing the needs of everyday readers and college students alike. Busy and bustling in the front, low key further in back.
Quality — The books were new and of high quality, many bestsellers, late editions of classics, and recent titles across the board.
Quantity — Not a huge shop but I only browsed the main floor. Enough shelves and displays to keep you busy while you kick back your coffee.
Diversity — A fair balance between fiction and nonfiction with children’s books in the rear, and a section dedicated to mystery is back there too.
Affordability — Standard prices for new books. I didn’t see much in the way of discounted titles, alas.
Amenities — Shakespeare & Co. has a café with drinks and pastries right up front, with tables for eating, reading, and working that were full the entire time I was there. They also have a cool “print your own book” area midway through the store, which is a very neat feature.
Location — Upper East Side near Hunter College, a short walk from Central Park and multiple subway stops.
Customer Service — The one staffer I saw in the rear stocking books gladly came over to ring me out. Their payment system took a while but nothing dramatically long.
Overall — If you’re not a Hunter College student, this shop is where you might go for a coffee and to browse the recent titles, but there’s not much here selection-wise you won’t find in a Barnes & Noble, McNally Jackson, or Strand, so I assume most of their traffic is from UES locals and students. Still, a fine shop with some nice unique features (like the printing press).