2246 Broadway, New York, NY
I hadn’t wandered the Upper West Side of Manhattan in about ten years, and I mean really wander, spiraling the blocks on foot, coming into sight of Central Park before turning back toward the Hudson River, reaching squares and intersections midway where you can spin in place and see both boundaries. In that regard, the UWS really does feel like its own separate world, its own town, connected to Harlem and Hell’s Kitchen by the 1, the A, and so on. And if that were the case, Westsider Books would be the home of the literary fringe element in town, the place where hopeless poets, serious antiquarians, outsiders, punks, professors, and meticulous collectors would gather to browse and feel at home among the towering stacks of books.
And tower they did. Once you pass the crates of books out front and enter the glass door, you’re almost confronted by the skyrocketing staircase that serves as the spine of the shop, with the books filling both floors straight up from your feet to far above your head. You’ll need those ladders to get up there to see what’s hiding, though you’d best ask the staff about that. They were busy stocking, answering calls, weaving in and out of customers, looking like any of us walking off the street, leather jacket and jeans but wholly at home among the cloth-bound books and creaking wooden floors.
Just inside the door across from the command-center front desk you’ll find books about New York, the city and the state, and other local offerings, as well as an extensive poetry section, with full collections and chapbooks both new-ish and old. As you go further back there are some sports and economics too before hitting the long stretch of fiction. They’re all used and there’s a great mix of older editions of classics and newer offerings, all in good or gently read shape.
As you get past the staircase you’ll see some books on film, mathematics, religion, literary nonfiction, and loads of plays and books about the theater. Turning the corner there’s the sci-fi/fantasy shelf of old throwback editions, and the mystery nook, which is mostly mass markets but there’s some classic offerings tucked in there too. Around the bend on the other side of the staircase there are records, plenty of art books, history and war, and some YA/chapter books for kids, but not too heavy a section as far as that goes.
The stairs leading up are also stacked with overflow books of all kinds, fiction and non, and at the top is another staff desk and most of their choice titles, some in cases, ones that are older or are volumes that run together, but many are not locked away, including a bunch of signed and first editions, some Beat-poet and drug culture type sections, vintage pulp and westerns by the likes of Zane Grey and CS Forester, older classics and poetry, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, more books about NYC, some vintage children’s etc. A fascinating hodgepodge up in that section.
A word of advice: most of the shelves run two layers deep, so shift them around and see what lies behind them. There are gems back there, much like this shop tucked in among the banks and frozen yogurt storefronts reappearing block after block of the city. But if you look hard, you’ll still find treasure, a home for outsiders, academics, the curious, and of course plenty of great books.
Atmosphere — It feels like the kind of bookshop that would look almost the same in any of the last handful of decades, with creaking floors, savvy staff, and books as edgy or academic as you could want.
Quality — They were all used, from mass markets to the rarest of ye olde English poetry collections, but they were in good enough shape to buy, read, and enjoy.
Quantity — Loads for what is objectively a smaller shop, stacked floor to ceiling, way way up there.
Diversity — A vast range of topics, with plenty of poetry, plays, fiction, and signed copies.
Affordability — Very, they were all discounted.
Amenities — Aside from a few stools and such, you’re there to browse on your feet.
Location — On the Upper West Side not too far from the Museum of Natural History.
Customer Service — They staff were present and busy stocking or helping people.
Overall — This is a cool spot that clearly caters to locals and serious book hunters. It’s casual, but real. It’s not off the beaten path, but you need to be looking for it. High marks all around. This is a killer used bookshop and I can’t wait to go back.