Business of the Month: Three Lives Books, 154 West 10th Street
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If you walked along one of the loveliest stretches in all of New York City recently, you may have seen what looked like a yard sale under a sidewalk shed. Except there were only books for sale outside on the corner of West 10th Street and Waverly Place. And behind the seemingly ubiquitous scaffolding was, of course, Three Lives & Company, our July Business of the Month.
As they put it, of the old wood and tin ceiling shop: “Three Lives is our living room, and a living place. It is a work in progress. We (the store and our customers) have grown up and evolved together. People come here to see and buy what we consider to be some of the best books available today. They also come to discuss books, culture, and events of the moment. They meet for a sense of community in times of national tragedy and personal celebration. Intrinsically, books extend a graciousness that provokes discourse.
In 1991, the Greenwich Village Historical Society (now Village Preservation) cited us for being “a pocket of civility.” With the advent of the big chains and more recently the internet, there is little room to be competitive by having more or costing less. Our survival has been due to our commitment to being that “pocket” – and embracing our client’s wish, for a bookstore that they have helped create.
A knowledgeable staff that reads prodigiously has been a key to our success, as has a theatrical and artistic display of the books we carry. Special orders remain a significant area of service, and we are meticulous about our follow through. We thrive on discovering literary books that might otherwise be overlooked, and thrill to give them to our customers.”
A few years ago the building where Three Lives has been since 1983 was for sale, and there was some concern about their future. Fortunately, a supportive and diligent new owner took over, seeing the book store as an asset. With long needed rehabilitation of the building now underway, the shop was forced to temporarily close to allow some of that necessary work on the building to proceed. Some customers started to panic thinking the same fate that has befallen so many small independent stores had happened to Three Lives. So Toby Cox and his team dragged out boxes and books each day to show and maintain their presence in and service to the Village.
The store caters to people from around the block and around the world, as Toby puts it. They have a growing clientele of visitors from outside the neighborhood, though locals remain their mainstay. The tightly curated jewel box-sized shop shows you do not have to be big to be successful. They have a wide selection of books, but the most popular seem to be Literary Fiction, Narrative Non-fiction, and cookbooks. Of course the New York City section is also popular, with repeat visitors wanting to delve deeper into the neighborhood and the metropolis in general. With Stonewall50 and LGBTQ Pride celebrations recently, naturally the Gay Literature and history section was bustling more than usual.
Toby talked about their humbling continued community support and success, despite the advent of Amazon ramping up in 2001, and the proliferation of E-readers in 2010 or so, when “everyone thought that was it” for bookstores. Since then though there has been a resurgence in interest in books; “the book is a perfect technology, they got it right way back when” Toby observes. “People also cherish a space dedicated to books and conversations around books,” he adds. One typical customer said, “I do not know what I come here for, but I know I will find something perfect.”
The continuity of Three Lives has been helped by having good landlords who see the value of such a unique store as an asset to their building. Toby also points to the “staff, selection and setting” as other key factors. He particularly cites the location within the Greenwich Village Historic District and being located within a landmarked building as an incredible asset. It lends “a gravitas to the business enterprise, you feel the support flowing from so many directions. Being in a historic district the value is expressed explicitly, it is not an assumption that it exists and will be there.” Visitors may not even be aware of the official designation, Toby said, but they sense it, and it is often what attracts and draws to people to the neighborhood, where they stroll, eat, and of course shop. It also doesn’t hurt when your storefront was immortalized in an Edward Hopper painting.
Finally, the question to ask a busy bookshop owner is what have you read recently? Toby said the last three books he has enjoyed were Normal People by Sally Rooney, her 2nd novel. Say Nothing, about the Troubles in Ireland, by Patrick Radden Keefe, which led him to read Homeland by Basque writer Fernando Aramburu.
You can pick up those at Three Lives and Company, and many other titles, as the chapters continue, with the support of everyone shopping small and shopping local.
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: