The Strand Opens Its Upper West Side Store; The Owner Explains What Books People are Seeking Out Today

By Angela Barbuti

The Strand begins a new chapter today as the literary landmark opens the door to its second home. “After 93 years in business, we thought it was time to bring our good reads to the Upper West Side,” said third-generation-owner Nancy Bass Wyden.

A sibling to the iconic flagship store on East 12th Street, it was slated to open at 450 Columbus Avenue, between 81st and 82nd Streets, in early April, but the COVID-19 pandemic halted that original plan.

Nancy Bass Wyden in front of the store.

Many locals have shown the store support as it prepared to open, said Bass Wyden, whose grandfather opened the store in 1927. “The neighborhood outpouring has been amazing. We went to a community board meeting and everybody applauded us,” she said. “People have been stopping by, knocking on the door and they want to look inside.”

When asked how they will be prioritizing the wellness of shoppers during this time, she replied, “We are following Governor Cuomo’s safety checklist that includes lots of cleaning, masks, and 20 people max allowed in the entire store. But luckily with two floors, there is plenty of space to spread out.” For one thing, there will be masks available, because during the hiatus she launched a line of them, with a dollar from each sale donated to the Robin Hood Foundation. “We released three different ones, which then sold out immediately. But we have plenty of masks at Columbus. I just put them out,” she said.

In keeping with the Strand tradition, they will be selling new books mixed with used and rare titles. The ground floor is filled with shelves and tables, some they built themselves, and others that remained from the previous tenant, Book Culture. There will be an award winners’ table, one for puzzles and games, and another for “Best of the Best,” which are staff favorites.

The basement is devoted to the children’s section, with a space-themed nook erected in homage to the Museum of Natural History. “With schools and camps being closed, we realize the importance of having access to a great collection of real books,” the mother of three explained. The young adult, foreign language, nature, science, and philosophy sections are also housed on the lower level. Outside, there will be two of their famous discount carts for sidewalk browsing.

While her staff, whom Bass Wyden called “dedicated, hardworking, and literary,” waited to open this location and reopen their East Village one on June 22nd, they continued selling their collection online. The Strand has seen slow foot traffic at its downtown store, prompting the company to lay off some employees who had been rehired, but Bass Wyden is optimistic that the Upper West Side store will attract strong interest.

As for what books have been trending during the quarantine, she first noted an increase in sales of titles related to the Black Lives Matter movement. Works that have been adapted for television, such as “Little Fires Everywhere,” “Normal People,” and “Dune,” are also selling well. “I think people just want a little bit of an easy read, a little bit of escapism,” she said. “Then we have a big push of people who love classics, such as “Jane Eyre,” Dickens, and “War and Peace.” That’s our literary, bookish crowd, wanting to go into the past and dive into quality literature.” Another area that is thriving is the cookbook section, with Alison Roman’s “Nothing Fancy” and “Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat” by Samin Nosrat topping the list.

Their expansion into a new brick-and-mortar will add to the Strand’s rich history. Bass Wyden’s grandfather, Benjamin Bass, initially opened the shop on Fourth Avenue, part of the six blocks between Union Square and Astor Place referred to as “Book Row,” because of the 48 bookstores that populated the area. “He was so proud of the store. I think it got to a scale that he never thought was possible,” she said. The Strand, which was named after a street in London, was the only bookstore there to survive.

A New York native, her earliest memories take place in the stacks. “I remember going with my mom and opening up the door and just feeling that it was magical to see my dad and grandpa there and being able to head back to the kids’ section and seeing all the beautiful, candy-colored books.” Being the child of frugal parents who lived through the Depression, she was also elated to be allowed to pick out anything she wanted. At six years old, she began her future career by sharpening pencils, and officially started working there at 17 with her father, Fred, who passed away two years ago. “I had such a close relationship with him. He gave me so much respect and really taught me and gave me a lot of responsibilities and areas to grow,” she said.

After she became involved in the family business, one of the projects she took on was modernizing their tote bags. “Before I was there, we had a tote bag that had the Strand name and address and even the zip code and phone number. I was like, ‘Why are you doing this?’” she recalled, laughing. “I took the tote bags and made them more stylish.” To commemorate the Columbus Avenue store’s opening, customers will receive a free “Strand at Columbus” tote with a purchase of $75 or more.

Photos by Amy Herny and Lindsey Novakovic via The Strand.

NEWS, OPEN/CLOSED | 15 comments | permalink
    1. Bob says:

      Yay! I’m hopeful to get to shop there soon — it’s so good to have a bookstore back in that space.

    2. cated says:

      The West Side Rag must cover the labor dispute by union workers at the Strand, including a large, impassioned demonstration today at the store’s UWS opening.
      Not enough to do this glossy re-opening story, free of any comment on the controversy related to Bass Wyden’s financial dealings, including receipt of $1-2 million in PPP, some of which may have gone to questionably buying stocks in Amazon, Facebook and others.

    3. Patricia says:

      Nancy Bass Wyden calls Amazon “A huge disrupter” for booksellers and purchased at least $115,000 in Amazon stock. The Strand Received between one million and two million dollars in PPP loans and lays off employees.
      The employees union mentions that the recent firings at the Strand are “an escalation of Bass Wyden’s long standing pattern of wanton disregard for the physical, mental and financial well-being of employees”.

      I will not be shopping at the Strand.

      • Jay says:

        So what?

        You don’t get to decide on what people do with their personal money. I’d say buying amazon is a good long-term stock to own.

        • NoEmptyStores says:

          Look what happened with Book Culture. There were political disagreements, and the store had to close. Please support the Strand! Or else Quinlan won’t be our hero this time around.

        • UpperWest says:

          Exactly. Come on. “Large, impassioned demonstration” was a handful of people with expletive-laden signs screaming about capitalists. Hire them back?

    4. 92nd Street says:

      I hope they can survive and flourish in this additional location, but until the Pandemic ends, the odds are against them. I will try to support them.

      As for the Protesting Union Workers, let’s hear their story.
      I’m certain they are all currently working 18 hour days for non-union wages, scrubbing toilets, sweeping sidewalks, and doing what it takes to survive during the shut-down, and my heart goes out to them.
      I am surprised they have time to protest, but perhaps they are working Nights, as I have to.

    5. Bob says:

      I never went to Strand for current books. Instead I always browsed the review copies and the stuff that sat there that no one wanted.

      From the look of it, this UWS Strand looks like a typical bookstore, with none of what makes the downtown Strand so wonderful.

    6. cma says:

      Welcome Strand, but, Once Again, UWSiders take Note: There is NO BOOKSTORE to walk to beween 86th Street and 110th Street on any avenue of the UWSide. There are at least THREE between 69th street and 82nd street.

    7. s. stern says:

      Was unhappy when the bookstore closed, because it was such a great comfortable place to be & I always found something I wanted. Absolutely thrilled that It is once again going to be a book store and one that I have known and used in the past – and now I can actually walk to The Strand! I hate losing pieces of the NY I grew up with and having local stores helps save entire neighborhoods.

    8. Sheila Wolk says:

      I would NEVER have known this was same book store from downtown…Barnes and Noble looks better than this.
      ….The thing about Strand was all the art books and magazines piled into bins and soo many shelves packed all the way up to the ceiling…millions of books all around.
      ..was a ONE OF A KIND store ..this one doesn’t even come close, outside of the name….sadly

    9. Ralph says:

      I spoke with the protestors and also Nancy Bass Wyden on the day they opened the UWS store. As a native NY’er who cut out of school in the 1970’s in Bklyn and took the train into Manhattan just to walk around inside Strand and was so excited for them to be opening up here, based on my conversations moving forward I will not be spending my money at Strand .

    10. L.S says:

      I am so thrilled The Strand has chosen our neighborhood to open an additional store. I will support this incredible book store and I encourage all other upper west siders to do the same. Let’s get our neighborhood back to how it was when all the stores were owned by Independent owners. This was the NY I grew up in and it was what made NYC unique. The new UWS Strand should not be a replica of the downtown store— it will take on its own personality by being loved and supported by its neighbors. Thank you for opening!

    11. JoAn Relich says:

      Looking forward to browsing and adding to my collection of books. Thanks for opening. Now two great stores on the UWS.

    12. Bud Sailing says:

      Welcome to the neighborhood STRAND! Loved you in San Francisco and know that we will love you here. Great to have another bookseller on the Upper West Side.