Imagine, thousands of books at your fingertips, all in the confines of a bookstore that has been making literature lovers’ hearts aflutter for the past 92 years. The Strand is an independent bookstore that boasts more than 18 miles of books from first editions and signed editions to unique binds and current fiction and memoirs. And now, you can have your own literary oasis right at home, courtesy of The Strand.
“It’s so easy to collect books,” said Nancy Bass Wyden, who now owns the store after her father and former co-owner, Fred Bass, passed away last January. It was Wyden’s grandfather Benjamin Bass who founded the business back in 1927.
Wyden attended the University of Wisconsin for business and literature and her favorite authors include Oscar Wilde, Mark Twain and Charles Dickens. Having been brought up in such a literary environment, Wyden saw the need to help customers create their own private libraries, which is why she started Books by the Foot in 1986, a department within the bookstore that creates custom collections of books for personal libraries, commercial spaces and for film and television.
“Books are truly beautiful. We’re in New York City, the cultural center of the world and there are so many writers and readers here so there’s great things that come from private collections and estates,” said Wyden of the store’s stock. “For me, it’s the best job ever. I can be very thoughtful and creative and use my talents to find books that people don’t think ever existed. It’s fun to have this element and it really elevates the house and the spirit; it makes the home warm.”
Sky Friedlander is the manager of Books by the Foot and has designed many libraries for hotels such as The Library Hotel, The Rittenhouse Hotel and the Four Seasons, and for private and personal collections of some of the wealthiest people in New York City.
“Books by the Foot has really blown up. Every major designer in New York comes to us,” noted Friedlander. “We try to surprise people and give them something special. We’re a new and used bookstore, so we can get specific with collections.”
Of the designer libraries, Friedlander says books can be by color, subject, theme, a time period or anything the client chooses. Since the inception of Books by the Foot, she has had requests for libraries on seashells, jewels and westerns, as well as animals, music and a full-scale Art Deco collection in a high-end New York apartment featuring F. Scott Fitzgerald books.
“Someone wanted an ombre wall of books to mimic a painting they had. It was visually beautiful,” she said. “Sometimes it’s subject specific and sometimes it’s for a visual effect, but either way, books are pieces of art.”
The Strand turns around the designer libraries fairly quickly. The biggest library Friedlander has done featured more than 2,000 art books, while Wyden has had a request for a replica of Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello Library.
As for the price, that depends on the space and style of books. A cart is 15 feet of books, and they are priced by subject. Art books are $300 per foot whereas antique books and leather-bound books are $500 per foot. In Wyden’s experience, employees almost always recommend books that go in a client’s library. If it’s for an individual, Wyden surveys her customer for information to make it truly personal.
“We’ll ask a customer what their favorite books are, if they like animals or cars, what kind of art is on their walls and if they’re located in a different city,” she said. “After 90 years, we have a good reputation; we know what we’re doing.”
The Strand is always on the lookout for books and will buy straight from the publisher and discount them as well as visit estate sales for more vintage finds.
“We get hundreds of books every day and we always have something beautiful,” said Friedlander, adding that it’s all about the surprise. “I hope The Strand gives people a sense of wonder. Just walk through the shelves and you’ll find something incredible.”
Despite the nuances of the technological age that has ushered in eBooks, Kindles and Nooks, print publications have maintained a steady fan base of traditionalists.
“Time stands still when you walk through the door,” said Wyden. “People feel like it’s their happy place, a little bit of a sanctuary, a community and a place of discovery where you don’t exactly know what you’re going to find.”
The Strand Bookstore is located at 828 Broadway at 12th St., in Manhattan. For more information on cultivating your own library, visit strandbooks.com.