How Astoria’s one and only bookstore came to be
At Astoria Bookshop, community and literature flourish side by side.
When Lexi Beach opened Astoria Bookshop in August of 2013, all she had was a website URL, a Twitter handle, and an empty storefront. The moment she plugged in her landline, she was bombarded with people calling to ask about the bookstore’s location and hours.
“We didn’t have hours,” Beach said. “We didn’t even have any books yet.”
So when members of the neighborhood learned that Astoria Bookshop was opening up, they were excited to finally have a bookshop in town again. “The neighborhood was so incredibly welcoming,” Beach said. “Astoria is amazingly supportive of small business.”
Astoria Bookshop recently relocated to a more spacious venue at the intersection of 36th Ave and 30th Street. This new location, less than a mile from its original spot, offers 40 percent more space and features an inviting outdoor patio where readers can immerse themselves in their latest finds. It was there that the bookstore celebrated its 10th anniversary.
Currently the sole bookstore in Astoria, Astoria Bookshop has become an integral part of the local community. Its shelves, both physical and digital, are stocked with a diverse array of titles. Local authors frequent the bookstore, offering book talks and signings. The store also organizes a myriad of events, from book readings to children's story hours.
In today’s world, “You can buy books anywhere,” Beach said. “You can buy books from your phone on your couch. But you come into a bookstore [in your neighborhood] because it meets your needs. That’s what I’ve tried to do here, from day one — to reflect the community.”
Astoria Bookshop sells over 8,000 titles, available both online and in-store. These books are not arbitrarily chosen. Beach and her staff are careful to ensure that a diversity of voices, such as books by women and people of color, are featured on their shelves. The team is inspired by the call to “decolonize your bookshelf,” a movement that seeks to challenge dominant Western narratives and biases in reading.
“It’s so important to make sure — especially for kids, but also for adult readers — that the shelves here reflect them and reflect the world and this community,” Beach said.
Astoria's hidden literary community
Astoria is filled with local authors who write across an eclectic range of themes and genres, from children’s graphic novels to cookbooks, from cozy mysteries to contemporary young adult fiction.
Despite the vibrant literary community, Beach sometimes struggles to find new authors moving to Astoria.
“It’s different from the Brooklyn literary community,” she said, “where everyone’s really loud about it and everybody seems to know each other.” In comparison, she sometimes has to “hunt around” to find out which authors are living in Astoria. “I want to make sure their books are on my shelves,” she said.
She speculates that the Astoria writers, unlike Brooklyn writers, are “all just too busy writing to be noisy about it.”
Still, the bookshop has hosted many events over the past few years featuring authors who call Astoria home. The bookstore’s collection of signed book copies by local Astoria authors and illustrators continues to grow. Of those, “A Show for Two,” a young adult novel written by local Bangladeshi American writer Tashie Bhuiyan, even includes a scene where the main characters mention Astoria Bookshop.
Astorians love poetry
Over the past decade, Beach has noticed a distinct trend: Astorians have a deep appreciation for poetry. The poetry section has expanded threefold since the store's inception.
Astoria’s avid interest in poetry, especially contemporary poetry, is unusual compared to other communities in New York. Beach knows this after talking with other bookstore owners in Brooklyn, where it is not as common for customers to purchase poetry as it is in Astoria.
“It turns out that in Astoria, people buy poetry,” Beach said.
Astorians aren’t just buying collections of poetry by well-known authors such as Langston Hughes and Maya Angelou. They’re also purchasing eclectic, contemporary anthologies, according to Beach.
Local poets, Beach believes, play a role in this trend. “There are a ton of poets who live in the neighborhood and in Queens in general,” she said. “And poets read a lot of other poets’ work.”
A neighborhood mainstay
The community’s enthusiasm persists to this day. Regulars frequently place online orders, while newcomers discover the store's treasures daily. Parents and children alike flock to the store for its events.
For Beach, the sense of community in Astoria feels special. “Astoria really feels like a town to me more than a neighborhood in a city,” Beach said.
It is not unusual for customers to come into the bookstore and tell Beach that they had just moved to the neighborhood and that the bookstore was one of their first stops, or that one of the reasons they chose to move to Astoria was because they knew there was a bookstore there.
Beach, like many book lovers, spends much of her free time in bookstores around the city. She understands the importance of having bookstores in peoples’ lives and communities. “I spent so many hours of my childhood and teenage years in bookstores,” she said. “It just feels like such a privilege to be that part of someone's life.”
Thanks for reading Stories from 1110x! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support our work.