A Secret Bookstore in a New York City Apartment: The Last of a Dying Breed

Even in our era of dig­i­tal media — and even as a cre­ator of dig­i­tal media myself — I can’t help but eval­u­ate each new city I vis­it, or the state of each old city I vis­it, in part by the qual­i­ty and quan­ti­ty of its book­stores. Toron­to, where I’ve spent the past week or so, does sur­pris­ing­ly well on this count, though I hear from long­time locals that recent cir­cum­stances have forced a few beloved spots to shut down, relo­cate or down­size. A sim­i­lar fate may loom over New York City’s Brazen­head Books, the by-appoint­ment-only under­ground Upper East Side book­store we fea­tured back in 2011. New York still does pret­ty well in terms of book­stores, of course, but here we have a rare spec­i­men in any city: a book­store run almost in secret, a place where, accord­ing to Fodor’s, you’ll find three rooms of an apart­ment “crammed floor to ceil­ing with books, both new and used, includ­ing some rare titles,” where, “on Sat­ur­day nights, the city’s intel­lec­tu­als can be found sip­ping whiskey and dis­cussing clas­sic and con­tem­po­rary lit­er­a­ture.”

If that sounds like an evening to you, you might want to pay a vis­it soon­er than lat­er. Accord­ing to the web­site DNAIn­fo, Brazen­head­’s own­er, Michael Sei­den­berg, wrote on his Face­book page this sum­mer,  “Brazen­head Books turns its last page on Octo­ber 31st.” “Lost our lease…lots of things must go.” If you can’t make it to New York before then, at least have a look at the video tour of Brazen­head at the top of the post.

As the book­selling indus­try has shift­ed over the past few decades, those omnipresent, large, order­ly, util­i­tar­i­an chain spaces meant for cus­tomers in search of a spe­cif­ic title — remem­ber those? — have giv­en way to small­er, more idio­syn­crat­ic book­stores, each of which pro­vides a dif­fer­ent set of tex­tu­al and social expe­ri­ences. Far at the lat­ter end of the spec­trum, we have Brazen­head, a one-man cen­ter of lit­er­ary cul­ture that you’ve got to know about just to enter. Hope­ful­ly it will sur­vive, in some form, beyond Octo­ber. But no mat­ter what, the short video just above reminds us that what holds true about your favorite book­store — whichev­er book­store you call your favorite — holds espe­cial­ly for this one: you won’t find anoth­er place like it.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Remem­ber­ing George Whit­man, Own­er of Famed Book­store, Shake­speare & Com­pa­ny

World’s Most Inter­est­ing Book­stores

Col­in Mar­shall hosts and pro­duces Note­book on Cities and Cul­ture and writes essays on cities, lan­guage, Asia, and men’s style. He’s at work on a book about Los Ange­les, A Los Ange­les Primer. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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  • Fred says:

    I wish I had a book­store like that to go to. Just not as much fun shop­ping on Ama­zon.

  • maggie says:

    Top of my USA buck­et list! Go vist News From Nowhere in Liv­er­pool UK.

  • brunswick says:

    I remem­ber some old­er book­stores in Bal­ti­more, now gone.
    The oth­er year went to a used book store in Bal­ti­more Coun­ty
    that adver­tised in the City Paper. Was dis­ap­point­ed, their old
    was new. Against the wall in a bed­room are cas­es of Books
    back to 1900. I attend­ed used book sales for decades.

  • Brian says:

    I want to be that guy when I grow up!

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