HOW A CHILDREN’S BOOKSTORE, COMING SOON TO THE UPPER WEST SIDE, PLAYED A PART IN ‘YOU’VE GOT MAIL’

Editor’s Note: Peter Glassman is the owner of Books of Wonder, which is opening a new location on the Upper West Side.

By Peter Glassman

The recent announcement that we’ll be opening a Books of Wonder store on the Upper West Side has stirred up some debate about the inspiration for the store owned by Meg Ryan’s character in the movie You’ve Got Mail. Some are adamantly claiming it was Eeyore’s Books for Children (the UWS bookstore that closed in 1993), others that it was Books of Wonder.

The answer is that it was a bit of both – each providing different inspiration. Director Nora Ephron and her sister, Delia Ephron, who co-wrote the screenplay, were customers of both stores. There is little doubt that when they decided to make the story about a chain bookstore putting a long established children’s bookstore out of business, they were thinking of Eeyore’s, which had closed in the midst of the big book chain expansion only a few years earlier.

However, when it came time to create “The Shop Around the Corner” – the bookstore in the movie – Nora Ephron instructed her set design and production folks to visit Books of Wonder and use that as the basis for the look and feel of the store in the film. They ended up spending 2-3 months in the store observing and photographing every detail – from how we opened and closed our security gate to how we arranged the books on the shelves. In fact, they asked us to send two of our booksellers to the set to assist in shelving the books so it would look the same as in our store.

Perhaps the most thrilling days for my staff were when Meg Ryan and Heather Burns (who played a bookseller at Ryan’s shop) worked at the store to get experience for their roles. One classic New York moment arose from this. Our assistant manager was showing Meg Ryan how to ring up a sale on her first day, when a woman came up to the sales desk with a small stack of books. The assistant manager explained that “this is Meg Ryan, who’s preparing for a role as a bookseller in an upcoming film. She’s just learning how to ring up a sale, so it might take an extra moment or two, but it shouldn’t be any problem.” Pretty much anywhere else you would have expected the customer to be excited about having their purchase rung up by a movie star – but not in New York! The woman very politely replied, “I understand, but I’m in a rush. Could someone else ring me up?”


Meg Ryan behind the counter of The Shop Around the Corner from You’ve Got Mail.

The production crew did an amazing job of recreating our store on the set – ordering the same bookcases as ours, filling the shelves with the same titles, and hanging up many of the same posters and mobiles that decorated our shop. They even licensed the artwork from our logo to use for The Shop Around the Corner’s – and Meg Ryan can be seen carrying a tote bag with our logo in the movie.

The producers were very gracious in their support for the store, ordering lots of books from us and inviting my entire staff to the wrap party at the conclusion of filming. Then, shortly before the release of the film, we received phone calls from newspapers and magazines all over the country interested in knowing about the bookstore that inspired the one in the film. The Dallas Morning News even flew a reporter to NYC who spent two days interviewing us and photographing the store and then ran a 2-page story in their entertainment section.

Ironically, we received almost no coverage in the NYC media – but then, local stores and restaurants appearing in films and on TV is pretty much an everyday occurrence here in New York. Still, for years afterward, people would come to the store, look around, and ask if this was where they had shot You’ve Got Mail.

So, while Eeyore’s was indeed the inspiration for the idea of a children’s bookstore put out of business by an expanding chain bookstore, Books of Wonder was the inspiration for the actual store in the movie. Which is just one more reason why opening our second location on the Upper West Side feels so appropriate.

Photo courtesy of Peter Glassman.

Find out what happened to the storefront where they shot the exterior bookstore scenes in the movie.

HISTORY, NEWS | 11 comments | permalink
    1. Joel Fram says:

      I was the founder of Eeyore’s Books for Children and the proprietor for its 19-year existence. I started on the West Side in 1974, opened a second branch on the East Side in 1981, and continued to run the stores until they both closed in 1993. Eeyore’s was a popular bookstore in its day which offered a cozy environment for children and their parents to examine and enjoy a large selection of books. Our numerous author appearances, story hours, writing contests and other special events drew large numbers of children and their parents. I’m proud to have created the store, and pleased that it inspired Nora Ephron to write “You’ve Got Mail.”
      Ephron lived at the Apthorp, across Broadway from the West Side store, and she was a regular customer. Her young son Jacob worked for me as a gift-wrapper over a holiday season; he’s now a writer for the New York Times Style Section. When I saw a notice that You’ve Got Mail was being filmed, I wrote Ephron a note and she responded graciously, saying that she she often wished she knew “where to find you just to ask you some of the questions I hope we haven’t made too much of in our attempt to do something sort of about books, sort of about the West Side, and sort of about everything else.”
      I’m glad she found some of her answers at Books of Wonder, which was the only all-children’s bookstore left in New York when I closed (with the arguable exception of Bank Street Bookstore, which carried children’s books and teacher’s supplies; they’re now on Broadway and 107th Street).
      I’m glad Books of Wonder is opening in my favorite neighborhood, the Upper West Side.
      Joel Fram

      • Wijmlet says:

        We LOVED Eeyore!

      • filatura says:

        Your gracious note complements Peter Glassman’s beautifully, and further explains the role of both stores in the evolution of “You’ve Got Mail.” At a time when people claw for every available scrap of credit and celebrity, you and Peter prove (as though it needed proof) that book people are good people.

    2. Carlos says:

      Thank you for sharing. You’ve Got Mail is one of my favorite movies. It was part of the reason I moved to the neighborhood a few years later and I haven’t left. I enjoy pointing out landmarks from the movie to friends. I am looking forward to taking my kids to the new store.

    3. Alan says:

      Lovely piece.
      And, of course,the exterior of the bookstore shown in the movie was Maya Schaper’s Cheese and Antiques store on 69th just west of Columbus. It’s La Mode Cleaners now.

    4. Cheryl says:

      Eeyore’s Book Store was a special presence in our young daughters’ lives. Joel Fram created a book-loving atmosphere and a personal rapport with the families. Brian Selznick, now an award-winning author and illustrator of young people’s books, including the book which became Martin Scorsese’s beautiful film “Hugo”, worked there. Remembering one of our daughter’s manias for horses and ballet, he would call up when new books on these subjects came into the store.

    5. Robin says:

      Address?

    6. MJ says:

      What a great story! If you watch the DVD and play the director commentary, Nora Ephron talks about her inspiration for the store.

    7. UWS Momma says:

      What a lovely story!
      This is a wonderful addition to the neighborhood. My 3 children love to give books as presents and enjoy exploring books in the store! We look forward to spending a lot of time here! Welcome!

    8. Beverly says:

      Peter Glassman curiously describes a “debate” over which children’s book store inspired the movie “You’ve Got Mail.” Recently The New York Times identified Eeyore’s as the inspiration of the movie (as opposed to inspiring the backdrop of the movie set). Eeyore’s enchanted customer Nora Ephron, the movie’s writer and director, along with many other Upper West Siders. One only hopes that the new Books of Wonder store will generate the same lasting affection in a new generation of Upper West Side readers.