Book lovers were dealt a blow late last year when the beloved BookCourt closed up shop after 35 years.
And then—poof! As if appearing out of thin air, Books Are Magic arrives to fill the void left by the closing of the former local literary institution. The brainchild of Brooklyn-based author Emma Straub and her graphic designer husband, Michael Fusco-Straub, Books Are Magic made its official debut at 225 Smith Street (at Butler Street) on Monday, May 1.
“We knew that BookCourt was closing and we couldn’t stomach the idea of living in a neighborhood without a bookstore,” Straub, a former BookCourt bookseller told BKLYNER Monday afternoon.
“It was really like our home base—it was where I had launched all my books and it was where we took River (the couple’s 3-year-old son) every day,” she recalls.
“It was just one of those things. We could have waited and someone else would have done it [opened a bookstore], but it just felt like the right thing at the right moment,” Straub says of the couple’s decision to open up a bookshop of their own.
“For my money, there’s nothing like an actual bookstore. I don’t read things digitally, and I like to browse…” Straub says when asked why they decided to open a brick-and-mortar bookstore in the age of Amazon and online shopping. “There’s no community. There are no events. There are no booksellers.” she adds.
The inviting corner bookshop, located in a former clothing store, features lots of windows and natural lighting, high ceilings, exposed brick, dangling pendant lights, and some of the original bookshelves salvaged from BookCourt.
“They’re a little beat up. There’s some character to them and there’s a lot of history,” Fusco-Staub says of the shelves.
“I didn’t want it to feel like a dusty bookshop. I also didn’t want it to feel cold,” he says about designing the new space. “I was thinking about this balance and how to achieve that balance.”
“I didn’t want it to feel claustrophobic like a lot of New York spaces are…. I wanted it to feel open, light and airy,” he explains. “You can do something like that and it can end up feeling cold, but as soon as we got the BookCourt shelves in here, I kind of understood that it wasn’t going to feel sterile because [of] these shelves.”
While officially opened on Monday, Books Are Magic had a soft opening over the weekend. “The weekend was insane. We were only open for five hours each day, and on Saturday alone, we sold 1,100 books,” Fusco-Straub says.
With lines snaking from the front cash wrap to the back of the store and vice versa, the enthusiastic weekend crowds proved that the neighborhood missed having a local independent bookstore.
“There are so many people that are just like us who really need something like this in their neighborhood—a community space to go to and talk to other people about books and [attend] events,” Fusco-Straub notes.
And Books Are Magic has plenty of events lined up. Straub is looking forward to an event for the kid’s title, Dragons Love Tacos 2 (May 16), as well as the launch of her friend Courtney Sullivan’s new book, Saints For All Occasions (May 9).
“We’re doing a lot of food events because there are a lot of great restaurants, chefs, and food people in the neighborhood,” she adds.
When asked how she buys the inventory for the store, Straub insists, “I’m trying to buy for the neighborhood…. I definitely feel myself on a learning curve.”
“The fiction was really easy and fun for me because that’s what I like to read, but the non-fiction side was definitely more challenging—filling out our history section, books that I don’t personally tend to read very often for leisure—that was harder,” she says.
“We have a really fabulous staff (including one other former ‘BookCourter’) and they’re all giving us their lists,” she adds. “Whatever we’re lacking, I’m sure people will tell us. We’re new at this.”
Though opening a bookstore is an “enormous undertaking,” as Straub describes, the couple have clearly made the right decision.
“As we were building the space, people were banging on the windows and giving us thumbs up every day,” Fusco-Straub recalls. “I’m so happy that we were able to pull it off and I’m happy to be here. It’s been so much fun.”