Inside the Indie Bookstore You’ve Been Waiting for

Novelist Emma Straub's much-anticipated Brooklyn shop, Books Are Magic, delivers on its promise

The store is bright and charming, from the window display outside to an adorable book-nook hideaway cubby for kids (Photo by Daniel Roberts)

Just six months ago, if you had asked someone to name the best and most beloved bookstores in Brooklyn, BookCourt would have certainly made their list. It was a staple of Cobble Hill’s main business drag, Court Street, and one of the small businesses that gave the neighborhood its character.

So in December, when the owners of BookCourt announced they’d close the store, it was crushing news. And it came just a few months after Community Bookstore (which admittedly had a very different vibe), just two blocks down Court Street, also packed up shop after 32 years in business.

That left just one bookstore in the neighborhood: Barnes & Noble, up near Borough Hall—and certainly, with the rise of Amazon, Barnes & Noble has become more sympathetic and is no longer the bad guy it once was, but it’s still a far cry from an independent book shop.

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The front desk has an old-fashioned letterboard of coming events (Photo by Daniel Roberts)

Enter Emma Straub, bestselling novelist and another BookCourt success story (she worked at the store, as have many local authors), and her husband Michael Fusco-Straub, a graphic designer. As soon as the BookCourt owners announced its sad news, Emma Straub announced happier news: they planned to open a new bookstore in the neighborhood.

That store, Books Are Magic, opens today at the corner of Smith and Butler streets, and restores some literary magic to Cobble Hill and Carroll Gardens that was desperately needed.

The store is bright and charming, from the window display outside to an adorable book-nook hideaway cubby for kids way at the back. An old-fashioned-style letterboard at the register lists upcoming readings under the heading “Events are magic,” and there are dedicated shelves for bestsellers, staff picks, NYRB Classics, and more.

Books Are Magic occupies a unique physical space, and fills it inventively. The store is a lot longer than you think when you first walk in, and stretches back like a shotgun-apartment layout.

A large proportion of the store, basically the entire back room, is dedicated to children’s books—more than the typical one or two racks at most small shops. When asked about devoting so much space to kids’ books, Straub said on Sunday, “We have kiddos of our own,” which influenced the design.

At a time when more and more empty storefronts are sprouting all over gentrifying Brooklyn as landlords raise rent and force out small businesses, an independent bookstore is warmly welcome. When the store had a soft opening on Saturday and Sunday (open just from noon to 4 on those days), it was densely packed the entire time.

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Novelist and new indie bookstore proprietor Emma Straub at home in Brooklyn last May (Photo credit: Nicole Bengiveno/The New York Times/Redux)

And Straub has played it wisely on social media (Twitter and Instagram: booksaremagicbk), posting a flood of photos and videos that often give friendly shouts to other local small businesses like Pok Pok (which delivered wings over the weekend), Melville House (the Dumbo-based small publisher) and fellow bookstore owners from Community Bookstore in Park Slope and Word in Greenpoint. That group, at least for now, appears to feel that a new bookstore in the borough is a good thing for all, rather than unwanted competition.

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The store also cleverly offered locals a membership option ahead of time, including a requisite tote bag and a laminated membership card. And following the example set by BookCourt, Books Are Magic already has a star-studded events lineup: J. Courtney Sullivan, Dan Chaon, and Elizabeth Strout are all coming to the store this spring.

Locals clearly wanted this store, and now if they want it to stick around, they’ll have to vote with their dollars and foot traffic.

Books Are Magic is located at 225 Smith St. Hours: M-F 10-9, Sat 9-9, Sun 9-7.

Daniel Roberts is a business journalist at Yahoo Finance and a Cobble Hill resident. You can follow him on Twitter @readDanwrite and find more at his personal site: danielbroberts.com.