Business of the Month: Left Bank Books, 41 Perry Street
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I was ecstatic to find out about the re-opening of Left Bank Books in a new Greenwich Village location at 41 Perry Street between West 4th Street and Waverly Place. Though they just opened at this new location in March. Left Bank Books has been around in one form or another since 1992, occupying three different locations and undergoing four ownership transformations. So we had to honor them as our April Business of the Month!
This latest incarnation is led by Erik DuRon and Jess Kuronen, who were former employees of the old shop — an old-school, neighborhood used bookshop. During the hiatus, they’ve been active at book fairs and online – what they’ve called Left Bank 2.0 – and forged a more focused version, with an emphasis on used and rare books that speak to the culture in a fresh and at times irreverent way.
The new shop sits on a lovely tree-lined block between West 4th Street and Waverly Place, right in the heart of the Greenwich Village Historic District (which is celebrating its 50th anniversary right now). Although off the commercial avenues, it is on the beaten track of local residents and tourists, from across the world or just other parts of the city. They really could set up anywhere, but reopened here again, because they strongly identify with the artistic and cultural heritage of Greenwich Village, New York City’s “Left Bank”.
Given its modest size, Erik likened it to a tightly curated jewel box, as the previous shop was twice the size. They showcase an eclectic selection from the 20th and 21st centuries (and occasionally earlier with some antiquarian items, the oldest currently dating from the 17th century), encompassing literature, art, film, photography, fashion, architecture, design, music, theater, dance and children’s books.
They have some remarkable titles about our neighborhood in particular. In the window during a recent visit, one could find a first edition of “Greenwich Village, Today & Yesterday” in excellent condition, with photographs by Berenice Abbott and text by Henry Lanier. Inside, on a shelf, was a 1968 copy of “Tenth Street” by Bill Binzen, among other gems.
Despite what may seem like a rarefied inventory, they have something for every book buyer. Books start at $10 and $15 dollars and can go into the five figures, with plenty in between. Erik observed that they are not geared exclusively to book collectors, but also to creative professionals for whom these books might be an active resource.
Erik studied literature and answered an ad in the back of the Village Voice to start his first job in the field, at the old St. Mark’s Bookshop. He has since become an expert in the profession, with more than 20 years of rare books experience as a buyer and seller with Bauman Rare Books.
The profession requires a high level of acumen. You have to know what’s out there and be familiar with multiple editions of a title. Of course, as they curate a shop where everything is of a piece, Erik and Jess are guided by their own interests. But Erik adds that they also “have to be able to divine what the zeitgeist is.” At the same time, they can also be a tastemaker in the way a good gallery owner might be. They do work with clients on personalized collections and acquisitions.
The bookshelves are a mashup with no set order, not alphabetically arranged or topic oriented and certainly not classified by color, though it is all aesthetically pleasing. The books are often facing cover out, rather than side by side. Erik says of their arrangement, “it allows a serendipity to find something that speaks to you.” If you really browse and look, in 15 minutes, you’ll see all they have in the store. And it changes regularly. But if you ask what is there, they know it all, and have the knowledge of where it is at their fingertips.
Erik is currently finishing a biography of Andy Warhol because he was working on cataloging a collection. Partner Jess is responsible for, among other things, their Digital Collections, which are works of art unto themselves. To what usually resides in a static realm as a black and white pdf or inventory list, Jess has applied her graphic design genius to assemble a visually compelling way to provide more context and information for certain assemblages of their titles.
Jess has jazzed up this otherwise staid format to help you see in a creative manner just what is in these books, or what they see, in a very striking manner. By perusing them you may get to see a bit more how their minds work, while learning about the titles and authors and photographers. You’ll be sure to want to pick one up for yourself or as a special gift. So far, they have four Digital Collections: Fashion, Sex & Death, The Outsider, Fables, Hacks and Superstars and Shades of Eternal Light, with more on the way. Some of the books in those collections are sold already, so act fast if your curiosity is piqued.
But not everything they carry is in their Digital Collection or online inventory or on their website. And with new acquisitions ever flowing, they are unlikely to ever catch up, so the best way to see what they have is to visit the shop — and that is the way it should be.
While the team is tech and design savvy, they also consciously carry books that speak differently to this digital-centric culture, with visually catchy material that transcends pixels or gifs. Much of their collection is from the era of different book technology, when the older layout was often done by hand. They have in their ethos a conscious motivation to inspire people anew who are burnt out on a digitized imagery world. But they are still Instagram and web savvy.
People have strolled in and asked if it was a library, or a museum. It is elegantly arranged. But Erik points out how many people do not know how to use a bookstore. A transplant in their 20s to the city might never have been in a used book store. They’ll remind you that you are allowed to touch the books, though some of the rarer or more expensive items might be behind a case, you can ask to handle them. At Left Bank Books you can buy them.
Given their location in Greenwich Village, they also have a good opportunity to acquire material, and have already begun to field queries from people with collections and archives that may be available. They also source to colleagues in the macro booksellers eco-system.
They do not sell new books, so opportunities for readings or book signings will not be common. But they envision the space as able to exhibit a cohesive, intriguing archive that evolves out of their constant curation.
In the meantime, they want to celebrate with you every Thursday evening in April from 6-8 pm with drinks, snacks, tunes, and lots of great books. Join them on the Thursday(s) of your choice and buy a book or books, at Left Bank Books, our April Business of the Month.
What special small business would you like to see featured next? Just click here to nominate our next one. Thank you! #shoplocalnyc
And here is a handy map of all of our Businesses of the Month: