July 12, 2011

Strand Book Store - New York City, NY

On my second day in New York City, I had an entire afternoon to wander the city before the wedding festivities began. Naturally, I decided to go to my favorite place in the city - the Strand Book Store. Of course, getting there proved to be a unique challenge. A sudden rain storm hit while I was on the street, soaking me completely through in a few minutes. And I couldn't get a cab to stop on Broadway to save me life (although one did stop briefly, to laugh and tell me there was no way he was going to Union Square).

So I spent twenty miserable minutes sloshing through the wet streets of New York before I finally made it into a train station. Of course, that didn't make it much better because everyone in the train station smelled like a wet rat...although that could have just been the smell of wet rats. As much as I love public transportation, I had subway train stations. They are dirty, cramped, and humid. Every surface has been covered with graffiti and some kind of bodily fluid, so I'm afraid to touch anything even accidentally. But the worst part is the stale air. I just find it had to breathe waiting on the platform and suddenly when the train comes flying past and brings a gust of fresh air through the tunnel, it is such a relief. I can breath and I can leave the platform, even if it is only to be packed into a crowded train car like cattle to the slaughter.

The trip itself was unpleasent, so naturally I was relieved when I finally arrived in Union Square. Although the city did have one final insult for me. As I was walking down the street and attempting to light a cigarette, I stepped on a grate that sent a gust of air up my skirt. With my skirt over my head and trying to balance my purse and cigarette, it took me about ten seconds to get it back down. In my Marilyn Monroe re-enactment, I flashed the city of New York City for about ten seconds. Not one of the moments in my life.

Luckily, the Strand was there to comfort me. Eighteen miles of new, used and rare books - the Mecca for nerds in the city. (However, I was corrected by one person. It is not the "Mecca for nerds", it's just the Mecca). As soon as I walked in the door, I was taken in by the displays on modern classics and staff choices. They had a great selection and I should know, because I had already read most of them (although I did pick up a copy of J.D. Salinger's "Nine Stories" from the modern classics table).

Strand was first built in 1927 on Fourth Avenue, New York's "Book Row", as one of 48 bookstores. Today, the Strand is the only one left. The family business has been steadily growing over the decades. In the 1950's, it was moved to 12th and Broadway where it occupied 4,000 square feet. In the 1970's, it had accumulated 8 miles of books. Today, it has 18 miles of books, about 2.5 million indiviudal books, and occupies 55,000 square feet. But it still remains a family business, owned by Fred Bass, the son of the original founder Ben Bass, and his daughter Nancy Bass Wyden.

Strand is not just a wonderful place to spend an afternoon wandering the stacks, it also offers full services for bibilophiles. Want a personal library? They will build you one designed to your tastes. They have even rented libraries for films, such as American Gangster, and television shows, such as Law and Order. You can also hire their book detectives to hunt down rare volumes, first editions, signed copies, and even fine bindings. You can even rent the rare book room for special events and celebrate your occassion surrounded by some of the greatest works of literature.

Strand is my favorite place to be in New York, so it was worth the hellish journey to get there. There is something amazing about being surrounded by that many great books, something comforting and relaxing. If I only had one day in New York, this is where I would spend it.


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