Growing up, I spent many days after school getting lost in Borders. Before the bookstore opened its Riverhead, New York, location in 2003, I used our family outings to Sam’s Club to pick up a bargain book or two, but it was never enough. What the hell was a 12-year-old girl supposed to do with a $5.99 James Patterson hardcover? My grandfather could tell I was starved for a literary escape, so he offered to take me to Borders after school. When I walked into the store for the first time, I nearly cried. Books as far as the eye could see. I didn’t think it could get any better—and then I saw it: the café. And in the café, a number of my bookish classmates, reading and chatting. This was the place to be.
Ever since my Borders days, I’ve been a fan of the bookstore-and-café combo. And in recent years I’ve been thrilled to come across a growing number of independent bookstore cafés popping up all over America. In North Miami, Paradis Books & Bread offers a carefully curated selection of new and used books on critical race theory as well as natural wine and pizza in their wine bar and café. Two Dollar Radio, an independent publishing company in Columbus, Ohio, serves up vegan cuisine at their counter-service café alongside its newest book releases. In the Bronx, The Lit. Bar invites readers to partake in a little social sipping and introverted reading at the wine bar. Unlike Borders, which offered Seattle’s Best Coffee and mass-produced baked goods, today’s independent bookstores are rewriting what it means to be a bookstore café, drawing people in with the promise of unique menu items and connections with old and new friends.
Yu and Me Books and Amalgam are more than bookstores or event spaces. They’re sanctuaries.
Lucy Yu, a chemical engineer by training and the owner of Yu and Me Books in Manhattan, has always had a passion for literature. Growing up in Los Angeles, she would walk to Barnes & Noble at the Westside Pavilion and sit there for hours, reading and drinking coffee. This core memory inspired her to open her bookstore bar and café in Chinatown that focuses on immigrant stories and marginalized authors, as well as coffee and (pending liquor license) beer and wine. Yu believes that something really wonderful happens when two people share a drink together: “I always say that you can’t speak when you’re sipping, so it causes you to listen.”