The post-pandemic survival of independent bookstores on Long Island

Theodore's Books, one of one a handful of independent bookstore in Nassau County. // Photo by Alexis Friedman/Long Island Advocate

By Alexis Friedman

Online book sales surged by 5.6% in 2022, to $12.3 billion, Bookstat reports, making it all the more difficult for independent brick-and-mortar bookstores to stay afloat these days.

Nassau County is home to a handful of independent bookstores, with more new and used independent shops in Suffolk County. Meanwhile, the Island has seven Barnes & Noble locations, with an eighth coming to Bridgehampton this summer.

Books for sale at a Barnes & Noble. / Photo courtesy of Misael Moreno on Unsplash.

Revitalizing Long Island communities

Town revitalization efforts on Long Island have increased in Suffolk County and are aiding the community support and dedication needed for independent bookstores to survive and grow. Earlier this year, New York State Gov. Kathy Hochul announced that Huntington Station had won a $10 million grant under the Downtown Revitalization Initiative, which will infuse funding into the community to make Huntington Station a “safe, walkable and affordable downtown where residents can thrive,” Hochul stated in a news release.

The hamlet of Hampton Bays in Southampton is currently undergoing a downtown revitalization project, for which residents were asked to complete a survey about what they would like to see from the project. Newsday reported that “cafes, diners and sit-down restaurants topped the list of types of businesses people would prefer, followed by bookstores, gourmet food shops, a bakery and clothing and accessory shops.”

L.I. bookstores navigate the pandemic

Like so many other businesses at the onset of the coronavirus pandemic in March 2020, bookstores, particularly independent bookstores, were greatly impacted by store closures, but when they reopened, they also provided a place for people to get away from their homes.

A child reading in a bookstore during the coronavirus pandemic / Photo courtesy of Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash.

During the pandemic, “we’re attached to our phones, we’re working from home, we are in need of another place to go, and then books are just cool,” said Mallory Braun, owner of The Next Chapter bookstore in Huntington. “You go into a bookstore and can just grab anything off the shelf. It’s not like an algorithm is showing you what you should be looking at or what they think you would like. It’s something that you never knew you would be interested in. That’s how I found some of my favorite writers.”

The Next Chapter opened on New York Avenue in Huntington in 2022, after its predecessor, the beloved Book Revue, closed in 2021 after 44 years in business. Following the closure, a Kickstarter campaign began to get The Next Chapter up and running, raising more than $250,000.

The store sells used, rare, remaindered and new books that are collected from the community and sorted to put on stands. At the new location, Braun has an extra 2,000 square feet in the store to house and sell used books.

“Right now it’s filled with many, many boxes of used books that we’ve been carting around over since Book Revue closed, and we’ve been gaining more of them over the past like year and a half,” Braun said. “We’re sorting through those, pricing them and putting them out on the shelf, or pulling books that are just sitting. We honestly have more books than we can sell, just because there are so many books in this world.”

Started and owned by former congressman Steve Israel, Theodore’s Books of Oyster Bay is an independent bookstore that sells new books. The shop is named for Theodore Roosevelt, the 26th president of the United States, and is located near his family home, Sagamore Hill, an historic landmark.

An array of books found at Theodore’s Books. “When any government tells you not to read something, read it,” said Rep. Steve Israel / Photos by Alexis Friedman/Long Island Advocate

Similar to The Next Chapter, Theodore’s Books is relatively new to the Long Island independent bookstore market, after opening in November 2021 amid the coronavirus pandemic.

“We are one of two independent bookstores left in Nassau County, which is pretty amazing for an area of the country that has 1.4 million people,” said Becky Schamis, general manager and book buyer for Theodore’s Books. “So we’re really proud to be here.”

Becky Schamis’ favorite thing about her job as the general manager of Theodore’s Books is “meeting customers and talking to them about what they like to read.” / Photo by Alexis Friedman/Long Island Advocate

The community of Oyster Bay’s revitalization, which the LI Herald described as a “renaissance of sorts,” contributed to Israel’s idea for Theodore’s Books and gave him the perfect opportunity for opening.

Bookmarks are given out at Theodore’s Books encouraging shoppers and readers to invest in their local community. / Photo by Alexis Friedman/Long Island Advocate

“The community is seeing a lot more revitalization and also this interest in shopping local, supporting in your community and thinking about people who live in your town and how you want to support them,” Schamis said. Israel “saw that as an opportunity, signed the lease in September of 2021 and opened the store two months later.”

On Instagram: Sunday, April 16, at 4 p.m. at Theodore’s Books, join us for an evening with bestselling author @sandeepjauhar as he speaks about and signs copies of his new memoir, “My Father’s Brain: Life in the Shadow of Alzheimer’s.”

Interested in visiting The Next Chapter and Theodore’s Books? Follow them on social media to see what upcoming events they have @thenextchapterli and @theodoresbooks.