President of Logos Bookstore tells the story of one of the last remaining independent bookstores in Manhattan
Upper East Side Residents of the Upper East Side have a bookstore they can call home. One where its president, Harris Healy, actually knows “quite a few” of them by name. The cozy feel of Logos Bookstore is complete with an outdoor garden for reading and a visiting cat.
Healy has been a part of the store since 1985, when they were on Madison Avenue. Rent increases forced a move to York Avenue in 1995, where the store still stands between 83rd and 84th Streets. Healy, who has a masters in theological studies, grew the religious section, but also embraced his new neighborhood of young families, and developed his children’s area.
Even during the summer months, the store continues to host their monthly book discussion fittingly titled “Kill Your TV,” and a story time for little ones.
How does being on the Upper East Side affect your selections?
We are in a neighborhood of people starting with families. Beginning with babies and going up to middle school and teenagers. We grew our children’s collection by people coming in and asking for different kinds of children’s books.
I understand that you have a background in theology.
Yes I do. I went to a seminary after college for a couple of years and got a masters in theological studies. So I’ve always been interested in the religious books that we have in the store. We have all the traditions of Christianity and a good, solid Judaica section, as well as world religions, all side by side. Basically people come in and see all this and start to think a little about stuff. For some people, it’s a destination shop, where they’re going to come for that kind of book.
You have a book club there called Kill Your TV.
Yes we do, on the first Wednesday of every month. It was founded by a customer in the fall of 1998. She was very involved with computers and wanted to get out of the house. She wanted to have a book discussion and she figured she had to do it in a public area because if she just did it with her friends, they really wouldn’t discuss the book. So she ran it for a few years until she moved in 2002 and I’ve been running it ever since. We completed 15 years last October. We choose a book usually two months ahead of time. The only criteria is that it’s paperback, available, and has never been read or discussed in now our almost 16 years. There’s always wine, and sometimes people bring cheese. And at that time, you get 20 percent off most items in the store.
What’s the story behind the cat?
The cat is there from time to time. It belongs to the friend of the store who does the informal little garden in the back. My senior staff member babysits it sometimes. His name is Boo Boo and he’s a lot of fun.
Some want a certain cover, and they’re really not interested in the book at all. Basically, they’re doing some photo shoot and need the book in that. They don’t care what’s inside, it just has to look a certain way. One of the funniest things is some Bible customers will come in and ask for a compact, giant print, center-column reference Bible. Impossibility, can’t do it.
You have story time every week.
Every Monday at 11. We have a wonderful story reader, she sometimes brings in her princess puppet. She does sing-alongs with the children and acts out the books. Basically it’s a group of five, with babies who are two or three. That’s where we make a lot of sales in children’s books, with the young books. We keeping reordering children’s books all the time, because all the popular titles keep selling.
I used to work at Rizzoli Bookstore, which recently closed. What’s your opinion about independent bookstores closing?
It’s sad that this is happening. But what’s happening too is that the materials people read on have changed dramatically. Because with the advent of eBooks and eBook readers, where you can get hundreds of titles on a little machine, the whole dynamic has changed. Also, if you travel by airplane today, you’re lucky if you can check a bag for free, so the old days of people taking an extra bag of books is now 25 dollars. What the publishers are not grasping is that people really want eBook format or paperback for new authors. They only want hardcovers if they like the author a lot. But the publishers have been subsidized in their expensive hardcover little deal by chains and by Amazon over the years. That’s one of the reasons why the publishers have not adapted. But I have living, screaming examples of people who don’t want to take a hardcover. I once offered a hardcover of a book that just came out in paperback, and the hardcover price was less than the paperback. The young woman blew up at me and said, “Look, this can’t even fit in my bag!” She screamed at me for about 15 minutes and I was like, “I wish the publishers could hear that.”
Why did the store move from Madison Avenue?
Well, the rents were out of this world in 1995. Madison and that area just became too expensive back then. We were between 43rd and 44th Streets. Back then, we were at the street level of a very interesting old-style building that was very tall and had an interior bridge between its two towers. They destroyed that whole thing; it’s now a monstrosity. I discovered the area where we moved to from going to a Bible study at 78th Street between York and the river. It was an upholstery shop, but the guys who owned that business lost it to the bank over gambling debts and my landlord got it from the bank.
Which authors shop in the store?
Jonathan Franzen, who has a writing studio nearby, said we were his favorite store. In fact, New York Magazine asks authors where they like to shop and he mentioned us.
If You Go
Logos is located at 1575 York Avenue, between 83rd and 84th Streets.
Kill Your TV Reading Group will discuss The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde, July 2 at 7 p.m.
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