Indy Jones

A rendering of the South Street Seaport location planned  for McNally Jackson books.
Local connoisseurs of independent bookstores have reason to celebrate: Two highly regarded operators will be coming to Lower Manhattan soon. The first is McNally Jackson, which has confirmed that its much-delayed plan to open in the South Street Seaport will finally be realized this year.

First announced in 2015, with an initial projected opening date of 2017, this plan aims to bring the highly regarded SoHo bookstore to the Fulton Market Building, facing historic Schermerhorn Row, as part of the broader redevelopment of the area being led by the Howard Hughes Corporation. The store’s founder, Sarah McNally, now confirms that she expects to be open in July or August of this year.

“The Seaport is a beautiful neighborhood that has captivated me for decades,” Ms. Jackson says. “It used to be an isolated village, almost a magical ghost town with little stands selling ice cream and t-shirts to tourists. I can’t imagine a better setting for a bookstore than the old buildings of Schermerhorn Row. It will be thrilling to sit in the deep sills of those old windows, surrounded by books, looking out over the cobblestone streets to the river and the Brooklyn Bridge.” The space, which will encompass more than 7,000 square feet, will include an outdoor cafe.

Also coming to Downtown is the much-admired Shakespeare & Companyindependent bookstore, which already has locations on the Upper East and Upper West sides. The store will open within the Brookfield Place shopping center next January. In addition to the inevitable cafe, the store will also feature weekly in-store talks by authors, capitalizing on Shakespeare & Company’s reputation as a local cultural destination.

This will be Brookfield’s second attempt at incubating an independent bookseller within the complex. In 2015, shortly after the remodeled mall (formerly known as the World Financial Center) reopened, following a $250-million dollar renovation, one of its first crop of tenants was widely respected Posman Books, a family-owned enterprise that had been named the City’s Best Bookstore by New York Magazine in 2012. This store closed within six months of its debut.

Nor was it the only local casualty among independent book purveyors. The venerated Strand Bookstore opened on 95 Fulton Street in 1996, but was unable to withstand the relentless rent hikes that buffeted Lower Manhattan during the explosion in property values that accompanied the neighborhood’s rebirth after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. The Strand shuttered its Fulton Street location in 2008. The space now houses a Lot-Less Closeouts discounter. More recently, Chameleon Comics, which had been a fixture on Maiden Lane since 1992, also shut down.

But some niche purveyors have managed to hang on. The Mysterious Bookshop, which moved to 58 Warren Street in Tribeca, in 1995, still prospers.

Even large, national chains have struggled in Lower Manhattan. The Borders Bookstore at Broadway and Wall Street closed in 2011, when its parent company entered bankruptcy. The majestic space it once occupied now houses a Duane Reade drug store. And Barnes & Noble’s Tribeca location, on Warren Street, has been the subject of repeated (but unconfirmed) reports of imminent closure, as the store’s corporate parent continues to shut down locations elsewhere in New York.
Matthew Fenton

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