By Lewis Manalo, Book Buyer, Idlewild Books in New York City
When Idlewild Books opened her doors two years ago, the idea was simple: Instead of organizing books by genre, this shop would be organized by place. Guide books, novels and nonfiction would all be shelved together under the location that they were set or described. With the closing of nearly all of the city’s travel bookstores over the years, Idlewild Books would become the place you had to visit before you left on a trip. If you were headed for Brazil, you’d find your Time Out Rio de Janeiro, your book on Samba, and your Jorge Amado novel all on one shelf.
A little bit of press brought customers trickling through our doors, and a little more press got people calling us from across the country. Being organized by place also made us more than just a store with guidebooks, but also a great shop to find world fiction in translation. With these parallel interests we were on our way to building a strong base of customers.
But we were in a neighborhood populated more by businesses than resident, and while the tens of thousands of people around us spent their days working, not all of had the time, energy or inclination to plan for a trip. As a result, people were coming in and asking for things that were not or were only tangentially related to our niche.
So, in the last two years, from that great initial idea, we’ve been evolving our product mix to meet the needs of the market.
We started with the “Destination Pack,” a packaged set of books for a particular destination that you could give to someone who you knew was planning a trip. We stocked more gift books, provided they fit out international theme, and found that it produced a few surprising bestsellers, Russian Criminal Tattoos Volume III among them. And with the popularity of Rizzoli’s re-issues of Sasek’s This Is series of country and city picture books, our children’s section grew as well.
As a natural outgrowth of our having become a destination for travelers, we also began offering French, Spanish, and Italian language courses, which have proven overwhelmingly popular (forcing us to hire more staff because nothing gets done with the phone constantly ringing with inquiries). The latest addition to our store has been an dramatically expanded selection of foreign language books. Once again, with the void left by the 2009 closing of New York City’s venerable Librairie Francaise, the French language bookshop at Rockefeller Center, and the 2007 closing of Macondo Books, the Spanish language bookshop on 14th Street, we’ve been getting more and more requests for foreign language titles. By the end of June we expect about a third of our fiction selection to be in French, Spanish, and Italian (and some German).
When people think of travel they think of a lot of different things that translate into a lot of different needs. New York is nothing if not an international city and a destination on it’s own. And as an international bookshop in New York, we need to be able to bring the world to our customers. At Idlewild Books we’re just trying to keep up with what our shoppers want.