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The new bookstore bringing magic to Brooklyn

Posted at 2:16 PM, Apr 25, 2017
and last updated 2017-04-25 14:16:41-04

When you think of Brooklyn as a hot travel destination, what comes to mind?

Boutique hotels, artisanal restaurants and hip cocktail bars?

Some visitors may come to visit the Brooklyn Museum of Art or stroll through Prospect Park.

But a bookstore?

It may seem unlikely, but this spring a humble bookstore is set to become one of Brooklyn’s newest attractions.

Of course, this is not just any bookstore, but one with indie cred, literary roots and a fan base that already includes Brooklyn’s over-supply of resident writers.

With a perch on Smith Street in the Cobble Hill neighborhood, Books Are Magic is perfectly situated to become a destination for anyone looking to tap into the borough’s literary mystique.

“I certainly know that’s how I like to travel—by visiting bookstores,” says novelist Emma Straub, who is opening Books Are Magic with her husband Michael Fusco-Straub and investors, Eddie and Martine Joyce.”

“If you’re in Nashville and you don’t go to see Parnassus, you’re a crazy person. Or if you’re in Los Angeles and you don’t go to Skylight and Book Soup. Seattle and Elliott Bay Bookstore.”

On a recent visit to Portland, Oregon, Straub, who has two young sons, went to iconic bookstore Powell’s Books every day of their trip.

“And we bought books every single day we were there.”

While she hopes that Books Are Magic will similarly appear on tourists’ itineraries, the store is more of a “hyper-local” enterprise.

“It’s entirely selfish,” she says.

“We live in the neighborhood and when [local indie bookseller] BookCourt closed [at the end of 2016], we needed a bookstore to walk to—and we knew everyone else here did, too.”

BookCourt had been on nearby Court Street for 35 years—Straub worked there part-time for four years, and the Fusco-Straubs had daydreamed about taking it over if and when owners Henry Zook and Mary Gannett chose to retire.

“We had talked about it as a sort of distant fantasy,” says Straub. “So when they told us they were closing, we said, ‘Oh, okay! I guess we’re doing it now.'”

Instead of a takeover, the couple chose to open their own store, falling in love with the second space they saw.

It’s scheduled to open May 1.

The idea of opening an indie bookstore in the days where even big-box stores like Barnes & Noble have closed branches across New York City may seem a little crazy.

“Oh, the whole thing scares me!” Straub admits. “But why not be a little crazy?”

The knowledge that BookCourt had a healthy business was encouraging, and the Fusco-Straubs have been relying on a network of bookseller and publishing world friends to learn the ropes.

That list includes author Ann Patchett, who co-owns Parnassus Books in Nasvhille.

“Ann was the first person I wrote to,” says Straub. “And she was so supportive and encouraging.”

“I’m so proud of Emma for jumping into the fray,” says Patchett, who opened Parnassus Books with co-owner Karen Hayes in 2011 when Nashville’s other independent bookstore closed.

“I feel a deep sense of sisterhood with her. We’re standing up for our industry, standing up for books.”

The Books Are Magic team plans to stand up for local writers, too.

“We want to celebrate the fact that we have a lot of homegrown talent,” says Straub, who says this extends to the lesser-known talents in the area as well as the big names.

“We are going to have a little sign up by the register that says, ‘Are you a local Brooklyn author? Please identify yourself so that we can make sure to carry your book.'”

“I know what Martin Amis looks like, and he lives nearby, so we’ll get his books,” she says. “But there are a lot of other people who I may not recognize.

“We don’t want a writer who lives around the corner to come in and feel sad because they’re not on the shelf.”

They are also taking a decidedly modern approach to the launch—covering their progress on social media and building a community of fans via the sale of founding memberships with the lure of limited-edition literary broadsides and branded tote bags.

“Before we did anything useful, my husband [a graphic designer] made us Books Are Magic pens,” jokes Straub.

(The pens, tote bags and mugs are also on sale in-store.)

Don’t expect the space to be uber-Brooklyn hipster, however.

“It’s going to be a whole lot of bookshelves,” says Straub of the décor.

“A couple of places to sit, tables with books on them. Pretty minimal.”

Well, except for the mural they’ve commissioned for the wall outside along Butler Street and the neon pink Books Are Magic sign hanging inside.

“We had all these other ideas for names,” Straub says of the whimsical choice over more standard options such as the Cobble Hill Bookshop.

“People may think we’re silly but we don’t care. Books Are Magic just made us happy.”