In the bookstore world, it's survival of the hipster-est


Sarah McNally in her Manhattan store. Photo: Yvonne Brooks.

First aired on Sunday Edition (19/05/13)

In a world where big online book retailers are killing the smaller stores, a certain kind of independent bookshop is fighting back. Some call it alternative, some call it hipsterism, some call it nerdism -- it's a highly curated kind of bookstore that delights in the idiosyncrasies and novelties of literature.

The Sunday Edition's David Gutnick profiles a Canadian who set up a "hipster" book store in New York City at a time when the future of the bookstore is so uncertain.

"It has to appeal to perhaps the most base or uninteresting or frivolous part of me or perhaps the most deeply aspirational and poetic part of me, but it has to find a home somewhere in me or I won't bring it into my store." That's how Sarah McNally describes her process of carefully selecting the stock that goes into McNally Jackson Books, located in trendy Manhattan. You may recognize that name: her parents founded McNally Robinson, one of Canada's largest independent bookstores. Sarah McNally's two-story bookstore appeals to those searching for something they might not be able to find online -- a fully sensory and aesthetic experience. Every corner of the store is well thought out, from the decor to the coffee served to the specialized groupings of books.

McNally Jackson Books provides an experience you can't get online. In the doc she takes Gutnick on a tour through her store, stopping at the display she has on books about the theme of longing in literature. "Every book display I curate is like a magazine article in my mind," she said.

McNally is always thinking of new ways to make her store, er, novel. A recent addition was the Espresso Book Machine, which can print and bind books on demand, including books that have been out of print for decades.

The bookstore is also well known for its community and literary events, particularly its Spanish literary events. "I've always thought a bookstore should attempt to be a mirror to its community and in the New York community Spanish is obviously very important."

The lessons she learned from her family business selling books in Canada has helped her thrive in New York City; bigger is not necessarily better, people's tastes change often and the means by which people access content changes so you have to be able to adapt.

McNally's store is proof that people want more than just an abundance of selection at the click of a mouse: people want an experience. Business has been increasingly better for McNally Jackson Books, and this year McNally expects to sell more than six million dollars' worth of books.

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