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McNally Jackson Books at 52 Prince Street in Manhattan

McNally Jackson Books at 52 Prince Street in Manhattan

Sarah McNally is a matchmaker. But please
 do not go to her for dating advice. McNally matches readers with books the old-fashioned way, by placing them in your hands. She carefully and thoughtfully curates the books sold in her independent bookstore, McNally Jackson, at 52 Prince Street just east of Lafayette.

Brimming with enthusiasm, McNally reigns over her modest bookselling empire with an almost maternal concern for her patrons. She has made it her goal to make sure their curiosity and intellect are nourished and comforted by making available an array of hand-picked titles in a pleasant, airy environment conducive to both contemplation and interaction. What is the secret to McNally Jackson’s success at a time when bookstores, and even books, are falling by the wayside
in the electronic age? McNally cannot put her finger on it, but she credits it to alchemy—the interaction of people and place and books, something that you cannot duplicate online.

McNally is not only a bookseller, she is an avid reader. She leads the bookstore’s international fiction reading group and is a member of a Proust reading group. She is also often present
at the bookstore’s numerous book talks and signings that have made McNally Jackson the cultural hub of the neighborhood. Their roster is a who’s who list of writers, editors, and critics that more often than not attracts a standing-room-only crowd. These events, along with the reading groups, storytimes for children, and even puppet shows, make it so much more than just a bookstore. It verges on being what Ray Oldenburg termed a “third place,” where one goes to spend time as a bridge between home and work life, a place that facilitates creative interaction among people.

McNally is thus truly a matchmaker. Through her bookstore, she not only unites reader and book, she brings people together to discuss literature, ideas, and fairy tales. She clearly does this all from the heart and not with an eye on some bottom line, though she is undeniably an astute businesswoman. Sincerity and business acumen—now there’s a perfect match!


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Image: Epstein announcing the 2010 National Book Critics Circle's Ivan Sandrof award for lifetime achievement; Epstein won the award in 2001 (photo: Wikipedia)

Just inside the entrance of McNally Jackson bookstore on Prince Street sits an enormous contraption, next to the café.  It is an Espresso Book Machine that prints and binds books on demand.  The machine, the brainchild of Jason Epstein, veteran of the New York publishing world, allows booksellers to print books in mere minutes, thereby giving them the ability to offer an almost endless backlist without the burden of having to order and store the titles.  It also enables authors to self-publish their work and to permission their book to the Espresso network so that it can be sold at any Espresso location.  This new innovation marries the new age of digital technology with the old world tradition of bookbinding, thus bringing the physical book into the future at a time when many are declaring its death. Read the rest of this entry »

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