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?”
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.