Colleen of Books in the City is a true NY-er (she was born and bred in Queens and now lives in Manhattan). A lifelong reader, Colleen launched Books in the City in December 2009, and loves sharing her thoughts on books she has read. Her favorite part of book blogging, however, is the chance to dialogue with fellow readers about their favorite books, even though her bookshelves are groaning under the pressure of all the books she has added on the recommendation of other bloggers!
In this Spotlight essay, Colleen introduces us to Housing Works Bookstore Cafe, a “bookstore with a cause.” Books, coffee, pastries, philanthropy, books, books … I might never leave!
Living in small NYC apartments has forced me to be diligent in my culling of the clutter and clothes that seem to so quickly fill my much too small closet space. I find myself trotting off to my local charity shop about twice a year with items from these cleaning efforts – that local charity shop is Housing Works and over the years I have brought countless bags of clothes, furniture, and shoes to them. Housing Works is the largest community-based AIDS service organization in the United States and they provide lifesaving services, such as housing, medical and mental health care, meals, job training, drug treatment, HIV prevention education, and social support to more than 20,000 homeless and low-income New Yorkers living with HIV and AIDS.
Their thrift shop in my neighborhood has a few bookshelves tucked into the back with a selection of books that have been donated – I always reward myself with a scan through the books when I stop in with my donated items (which results in bringing books back to the apartment that I have just de-cluttered but that is another story!) I was pleasantly surprised to learn a few years ago that Housing Works has an entire shop dedicated to the sale of used books and there is a cafe to sustain you while you read and shop!
This “bookstore with a cause” is a cozy shop located in trendy Soho on a cobblestoned street which typifies that part of the city. The store contains two levels of used books and music and it is literally packed to the gills with hardbacks and paperbacks which run the gamut from children’s books to foreign language books and lots of fiction and non-fiction. The sheer volume of books certainly appeals to me but I also appreciate the organization - the shelves are ordered alphabetically within genre and there are tables dotted throughout the store that feature staff recommendations or books centred on a theme. The store is very successful at marrying the used bookstore/thrift shop feel with that of an independent book store. I have yet to make any of their events but they frequently hold readings, musical and comedy performances, lectures and even game nights!
At the back of the store, there is a cafe which serves coffee drinks, pastries, sandwiches, and even knishes! I love to sit with a coffee at one of the tables near the cafe and review the used finds I pick up as I browse the store. The cafe (and the bookstore) is staffed mostly by volunteers and they lend a welcoming and relaxed vibe to the atmosphere. These volunteers really want to be here and that comes through as they serve you coffee or help you find a book in the stacks. 100% of the proceeds from the sale of the donated, used books in the shop go to fund the work done by the charity. There is nothing that assuages the guilt of bringing home yet more books to my crowded apartment than the knowledge that I am helping a good cause! Any excuse to buy more books . . . .
If you are in the city, stop by and visit the Housing Works Bookstore and Cafe at 136 Crosby Street (between Prince and E. Houston) and support the Housing Works mission while you enjoy a real NY bookstore gem!