By Estelle Anderson ’22
Upper West Side booklovers have something to celebrate this summer: after a three-month delay, the Strand Book Store has opened the doors to its new location on Columbus Avenue. Located between West 81st and 82nd streets, the store is an offshoot of the Strand Book Store on East 12th street, a legendary institution that has served New Yorkers for 92 years.
The Strand at Columbus Avenue was originally slated to open in April, but due to the COVID-19 pandemic, its opening date was pushed back to July. To ensure customers’ safety, the store is operating at half-capacity, with a limit of three customers allowed in each book-room. Masks and social distancing are required.
Opening during a global pandemic has posed a stark challenge to many businesses around the country.
“[Opening during the coronavirus] was definitely transitional at first, but it’s gotten better,” David, who has worked at the Strand for seven years, told The Iris. “I think every business is just trying to figure things out as they go.”
The main floor of the new location is expansive, its shelves stocked with poetry, fiction, and a variety of other genres. The nonfiction, young adult, and children’s sections are located downstairs. Outside of the store are several carts selling books for just two to five dollars: these “dollar carts” are an iconic feature of the Strand’s main store.
While the 12th street location sells a combination of new, used, and rare books, the majority of books sold at the Columbus Avenue location are new. Obtaining used books for the Columbus Avenue location is difficult, David explained, since the Strand’s buying desks have closed during the pandemic. “Hopefully, we get some more used books at our new location,” David said.
Customers having trouble choosing their next read can check out the “Strand Suggests” table, which showcases books that the staff recommends. To get a job at the Strand, it is a requirement to be a literary buff: all potential applicants must take the store’s famous literary-matching quiz, which tests their literary knowledge by asking them to match different novels with their authors.
Despite its Upper West Side location, readers from all across the city have come to visit the Strand at Columbus Avenue. “This is my first time at the new location,” Noureen, a longtime Strand customer from the Upper East Side, told The Iris. “I like giving back to the community, rather than Amazon. Amazon is doing well without me.”
The opening of the Strand at Columbus Avenue came with some controversy. Recently, the owner of the Strand, Nancy Bass Wyden, came under fire after employees discovered that she owns a large stock in Amazon, a major competitor to the Strand. Employees also criticized her decision to lay off 188 workers during the pandemic, despite receiving over one million dollars in Paycheck Protection loan support. On the opening day of the Strand at Columbus Avenue, protesters gathered outside, shouting chants like “We get sick, they get rich!” and “Whose Strand? Our Strand!”
“Rightfully so, there was a protest here when we opened,” David said. “There’s definitely some unrest between the employees and the union and ownership.”
According to David, there was another protest on Saturday, August 7, at the Strand’s 12th street store.
“I can’t imagine that it’s going to be solved anytime soon,” David said, referring to the protests. “But we’ll see.”
Despite growing unrest, the expansion of the Strand to the Upper West Side shows the vitality of the 92-year-old bookstore. It is a promising sign that independent bookstores are still essential to communities, even in an increasingly technological world.