In my quest for notable small bookstores in New York and the world over, I must mention the near and dear WORD in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. This neighborhood hot spot – referenced frequently in Shelf Awareness – is a little bookstore with a big heart for its north Brooklyn community. With a vast array of literary events like book groups and readings, plus current Staff Picks and Top 10 lists, WORD flourishes in its neighborhood and is a gathering place for local book lovers. I interviewed owner Christine Onorati about the origins of this Brooklyn gem, the Brooklyn Book Festival, and how they’ve managed to keep their customers coming back for more!
1) How long have you been in the biz? Any interesting history?
I managed a Waldenbooks in college, majored in publishing, and worked in publishing for 8 years before opening my first small bookstore on Long Island in 2001. I closed that store and moved it Brooklyn in 2007. My father owned stationery stores my whole life, so I guess I have retail in my blood.
2) What distinguishes you from other small bookstores in the area (Spoonbill, Courtstreet Books, etc.)?
We belong to Greenpoint and therefore we cater to that neighborhood, so while there is probably some overlap between us and other neighborhood stores like Book Court, we are still all a bit unique. Spoonbill is a great store but they lean toward the art world, and they sell used books. Those are two things we don’t do much or any of.
3) What genre(s) of reading material do you specialize in? Anything you have an extensive collection of?
Our bestselling section is literary fiction but our kids’ section is also large and thriving. We don’t specialize in anything rare, but we have a bit of a lot of different genres.
4) I love your eccentric classifications for notable books (“Book that can Change your life,” Book we loved before Mr. Pulizter, etc.”) How do you come up with these categories? How often do they change?Any ones you’re particularly proud of?
Those descriptions were used in our booth at the Brooklyn Book Festival this year. We thought we’d have a very carefully curated selection of our favorites to show people what we were about, and those signs really helped us do that.
5) WORD hosts a lot of literary events. Any upcoming events you’re excited about? Any favorite events from this past year?
We have a pretty ambitious event schedule and host a ton of really fun, unique literary happenings. This weekend is our Holiday Open House where authors come in and talk books and help customers and wrap and shelve. It’s a lot of fun every year and we have a bunch of awesome authors helping us this year, including Michael Showalter, Emma Straub, Peter Brown, and David Rees. In January we’re really excited to host Maira Kalman and Daniel Handler [aka Lemony Snicket], that will be a really fun night as well.
6) How do you see the rise of digital books affecting business at WORD? Will you be downsizing any of your printed material for a larger ebook selection in the future?
We sell Google eBooks on our website, and many of our customers are thrilled to be able to buy their ebooks from us. But we’re still in the business of selling physical books and so far people are buying more of them than ever. We continue to grow each year and we really don’t see the effects of digital books in our little corner of the world. At least not yet.
7) It’s vital for a small bookstore to connect to its community. How does WORD reach out to Greenpoint and Williamsburg locals?
Again, through our selection which is a reflection of our community. Through our events, giving people a place to go and hang out with other like-minded book folks. Through our Literary Basketball league and our Matchmaking Board. Through social media. These all help build community and let people feel welcome and part of the store.
8) Times have been tough, economically – what has helped a small bookstore like WORD to keep its doors open?
Thankfully, we are in a neighborhood that supports us and values us. We are lucky. I can’t speak for other businesses in other neighborhoods, but we are definitely thankful that we have such smart, amazing customers shopping and calling us their local store.
9) What’s a favorite book you read this year that you could recommend to our readers?
I have a 2 year old son and don’t get to read as much as I’d like to, but I did love Rules of Civility by Amor Towles, and my son’s favorite picture book of the last few months is I Want My Hat Back by Jon Klassen.
It’s true: Greenpoint just wouldn’t be the same without this vibrant bookstore. Thanks for being a part of the community!
For more info on WORD and their event offerings, check out: http://www.wordbrooklyn.com/.
Photos courtesy of Verity Combe.