I don’t know of another bookstore in the US like Housing Works Bookstore Cafe. The entire premise is to raise money for AIDS programs; it’s a thrift store for books. I keep thinking I must have been in other ‘charity’ bookstores (other than at a library), but can’t come up with one. To date, Housing Works has helped over 20,000 men, women, and children with AIDS/HIV. The public contributes in a variety of ways. Housing Works offers memberships. For example, a $60 annual fee entitles the member to 10% off all purchases. Book donations stock the store, in fact there was a table of books donated by Chronicle Books, but unlike most used bookstores, the public is actually giving the books to the store without receiving a credit. If that was an option in LA, I’d happily give my books to a charity bookstore (I already give my books to the library, but I’m open to spreading the love). And, of course, you can do what I did-buy books and eat there.
It’s all for a good cause, but is it a good bookstore? You bet. The atmosphere is used store perfection: wood floors, dark bookshelves, open space for lounging or holding events, a wide selection. In the essay section I found a volume of Michel de Montaigne’s Essays that has been on my ‘to be purchased’ list for over a year. In classics I found Anthony Powell’s A Dance to the Music of Time which I passed up the day before at Posman Books. The book was discounted and it was for a good cause, so I succumbed. But the prize was waiting for my in the short story section. A book rack displayed recommended books and there was Nathan Englander’s For the Relief of Unbearable Urges. Half an hour earlier, I was shopping at McNally Jackson and almost bought Englander’s book; at Housing Works I practically lunged for the book wondering why no one had snatched it before me.
Why my reaction to Englander? A few weeks earlier, Claire e-mailed me and said I had to read Englander’s story in the New Yorker’s 20 under 40 issue. People tell me I have to read stuff all the time, and I love hearing recommendations, but often it feels overwhelming to add them to the sea of books on my desk. But, Claire isn’t the biggest fan of short stories, so I paid some attention. When she asked the next day if I had read the story and sent me the link, I knew I needed to read it. It’s gut wrenching and impeccably written, Claire describes it best in her post. Needless to say, I felt like I hit the jackpot when I found it, I almost took a picture of it to send to Claire.
Any used bookstore where I can pick up two books I passed up at regular prices within 24 hours of seeing them qualifies as a good bookstore in my opinion. Plus, they serve a mean quiche. Check out the two amusing signs I found in the store. FYI, Housing Works and McNally Jackson are less than two blocks apart, making for a nice duo excursion.
If you know of other charity bookstore, other than those associated with libraries, please tell us about them!
126 Crosby Street
New York, New York 10012