When I first started conceptualizing this project, I knew that I wanted to visit bookstores with meaning. Again, I'm not saying that large, chain, corporate bookstores can't have meaning. Personally, I have many fond memories of childhood afternoons spent in Borders (before the closing), impromptu trips to Barnes and Noble with high school friends, playing the cat-and-mouse game of being offered a membership by an employee and trying to politely turn it down only to end up buying it and countless books I probably didn't need (but who am I kidding, I always needed those books). But for this project, I wanted something different. A place that held many memories other than mine - memories I could see and feel and maybe even smell. Memories of something more beyond me. And I found just that.
Located at 126 Crosby Street, Housing Works Bookstore Cafe is a bookstore/cafe hybrid (the name is pretty self-explanatory) established in conjunction with Housing Works, a non-profit organization created to battle the crisis of homelessness and AIDS. Working with all donated merchandise and ran on a volunteer-basis staff, this cafe/bookstore (I wonder how many times I can rearrange those words to avoid repetition) is a staple in New York tourism and community service (seeing as to how all proceeds go to Housing Works which will in turn go to those who need the money the most).
Since the 1990s, Housing Works has been fighting for homes for everyone, especially those that are homeless and living with HIV/AIDS. This work has helped countless people who have been left vulnerable and cast aside, people left to live in harmful situations as a result of circumstances they may have had no control over.
I wanted to visit Housing Works because I wanted to find a place where I could make the memory of doing good. In a building bursting with character and memories of those before me, I wanted to add my own. A memory of doing what I love and having something good come out of it. Being able to buy a book and know that the purchase itself would be going far beyond my bookshelf felt incredible. Doing good for people who ask for little though they may need a lot felt even better.
About my visit:
I loved this place. When I walked in and saw the winding, wooden staircases, I automatically got a little Harry Potter nostalgia. It was a little weird at first because the space looked big and roomy, but also small and almost intimate at the same time. Maybe some magical illusions playing on the senses? Or maybe just the feeling of camaraderie built over the years making the location feel a little more like home. Unfortunately, I didn't get a chance to browse the 2nd level which you could see from the first floor in a very trippy, but entirely cool way. Maybe I should just make this blanket statement - I loved the architecture. When I walked in, I went straight for the children's section (which was easy to find because it was the first section - once again, the layout wowed me). I really liked how each area seemed to be housed in its own little alcove, making everything feel neat and connected, not messy or overwhelming.
When I left the children's section, I saw the cafe area and even more shockingly, an empty table. I was shocked because it was pretty full in there (which wasn't surprising). Then I noticed a little sign on the table that said they were reserved for customers only (I didn't mind though - it gave me an excuse to buy a pastry). So to comply with cafe preferences, I got an orange San Pellegrino and a croissant (which was so nicely warmed for me). Due to the crowdedness, I sat at a table with the lady who was ahead of me in line. I didn't get to catch her name, but I saw her help a man struggling to get into the bathroom (because as she told me, "Not being able to pee when you really have to is the worst feeling ever") and I know she ordered a latte that was too sweet (that she didn't tell me, I just eavesdropped on her conversation when her friend showed up). Once I was settled and pulled out my reading for homework, an employee announced that they’d be closing at 4pm rather than 5pm that day. Stopping me from diving into the works of Foucault and giving me an excuse to procrastinate it a little more? Not all bookstores show that much love. But considering that I didn't get there until maybe around 3:30pm, I was very happy that I at least got to spend a little time there otherwise I would have had walked 30 minutes for nothing. And as I was trying to scarf down my bread before the closing time, I noticed an “events” section and saw books that I recognized from one of my favorite author’s, Adam Silvera. I tried, I really tried to ignore them and leave, but the temptation was too great - I had to go look at the display.
Which led to me picking up a book at the display. Which led to me, inevitably, buying a book from the display. But, not only was I blessed in getting 1 of the last 2 copies remaining, I also lucked up and got a signed copy. So blessed!
The checkout came to less than $20, but I also made a separate donation. Again, all proceeds got to HIV/AIDS research and combatting homelessness so I was more than happy to give. Especially when the prices themselves are so low, I saw no reason not to give a little more. A lot of littles adds up to something that could be life changing and I was overjoyed to be a part of the process. The process of helping to provide a fellow human being with a fresh star. Lovely people, good energy, better lighting, dark/shiny wood on stairs and banisters that look like they'd be amazing for sliding down - not to mention the way in which such a large variety of books are arranged for both your browsing and buying needs. With an amazing aesthetic, this cafe is tailored perfectly to people of all walks of life, united in paying it forward and browsing good literature. 10/10