Tucked into a cozy storefront on E9th Street, Pillow-Cat Books is — for any literary-minded animal lover — the cat’s meow. Guarded by the shop’s namesake cat, the bookstore opened by author Cleo Le-Tan is the city’s first animal-themed bookshop, offering new, used and vintage books across genre and language with one uniting theme — at least one animal or animal character within its pages.
Cleo, a New York-based writer and the daughter of famed New Yorker illustrator Pierre Le-Tan, was inspired to open Pillow-Cat Books in September 2021 after working on A Book Lover’s Guide to New York, itself a charming tribute to the Big Apple’s best independent bookstores. “I interviewed people who have bookshops, and then I realized, ‘Oh, I want my own!” she told the Manhattan Sideways team when we happened upon her eclectic collection one sunny Friday.
She began to curate and source a stock of animal-themed works, finding special joy in hard-to-find tomes from years past. “I love vintage children’s books from the 1950s and 1960s,” said Cleo, surrounded by books available to shop by category of animal as well as subject matter. Cleo told Manhattan Sideways that settling down in the East Village on 9th Street among the block’s many other speciality retail shops was one of her favorite parts about running Pillow-Cat. “I think it's a really nice block — I like how many independent, unique shops there are,” she noted. “It’s a fun block because you get people coming from Tompkins Square Park who are friendly and local, but you also get visitors.” We’d have to agree — as we browsed the shop, we already noticed several grateful visitors building their own stacks, making sure to give Pillow-Cat a pet on their way out.
Pageant Print Shop’s entirely glass storefront bordered by light blue is instantly eye-catching and proudly displays the treasure within. Inside its bright, buttercream interior, an immense assortment of old prints and maps line every wall and fill neatly-labeled display racks. This sanctuary of beautiful historical pieces was created by Sidney Solomon and Henry Chafetz in 1946. It was originally one of the many second-hand book stores on Fourth Avenue, an area that was then known as “Book Row. ” Now under the leadership of Sidney’s daughters, Shirley and Rebecca, Pageant Print Shop primarily sells old prints and is thriving at its current 4th Street location. Having worked with historic pieces her whole life, Shirley knows how to get the best prints. She has amassed her impressive collection from antique book auctions as well as other various sources that she has built up over the years. Roger, who has been working at Pageant Print Shop for over a decade, told Manhattan Sideways that “what we are looking for are old books with the bindings broken that are really not in very good shape on the outside, but still have good quality prints, maps, or illustrations on the inside. ” Although they search for old books based on the contents within, the shop also sells the old bindings for creatives looking to make decoupage and other fun art projects. Pageant Print Shop is definitely a fixture in the East Village, and in the words of Roger, is “one of those neighborhood jams. ” They enjoy “a loyal group of people that have been coming here for eons, " tourists looking for something authentically New York City, and neighborhood people walking by. He told us that newcomers are often “surprised that they are able to buy a piece of history, ” and return for more of their authentic, beautiful, and historic prints. Pageant Print Shop is unique in its extensive, high quality, and affordable selection. Roger affirmed that “It’s going to be hard for you to find someone who has this kind of a collection at these kinds of prices — it’s just true. ”
Washed in the warm lighting of this special shop, approximately 7, 000 books rest on shelves, in drawers, and tucked away in little nooks. Open for more than twenty years, this store has focused on collecting scholarly books ranging from art books to philosophy and everything in between, with much of the prose coming from estate sales. The feeling of age is the first thing we sensed when we walked in through the front door: creaky wooden floors beneath our feet and the scent of old paper in the air conjure a comforting environment where anyone might stumble upon that rare book or record they have been searching for over the years. As a former bookstore owner, it warms my heart to see a bookstore such as this one still thriving.
In a city always on the cusp of change, certain havens embody the essence of the classic, idiosyncratic New York. Village Works Book Store on St Marks Place is one such retreat. Relocating earlier this year from its E 3rd Street location, the bookstore has become an organic part of its new setting — with a historic edifice from 1889 that was formerly the German American Shooting Society Clubhouse. Joseph Sheridan, the shop's proprietor, is a longstanding patron of New York City’s artistic and cultural scene, with a resume that includes everything from the Café Con Leche dance party to the Urban Works gallery. Village Works is the ultimate expression of his commitment to the city's culture, featuring an eclectic range of 5, 000 titles that largely focus on New York’s art, history and literature. The pandemic-induced exodus of tourists, students and wealthy residents revealed an opportunity to Sheridan. It was the ideal climate to unveil a bookstore aimed at documenting and celebrating this cultural resurgence. Starting with 2, 000 books from his personal collection, Village Works has since expanded to include self-published works and donated titles. Far from being just a bookstore, Village Works also serves as a gallery, and it regularly hosts events, book signings and fashion and retail collaborations, challenging the widely held belief that contemporary audiences are disinterested in New York's rich cultural history. Village Works is more than a retail space; it's a dynamic cultural hub. The scope of the bookstore has broadened from its initial emphasis on Village artists to include the wider New York City creative community. This commitment is evidenced by the store’s growing inventory, a series of art exhibitions complete with catalogs — and even foraying into publishing.
The warmly painted walls inside Veselka envelop the room in folky florals and traditional Ukrainian symbols. Hanging from the ceiling are glowing milk glass globes that seem to replace the sun or moon depending on the time of day — and it could be any time at all, as Veselka is open for twenty-four hours, seven days a week, serving a smorgasbord of pierogis, bowls of borscht, and other expertly prepared comfort foods — Ukrainian and otherwise. Wlodymyr Darmochwal planted roots for Veselka when, as one of the founders of the neighborhood Plast organization (akin to the Ukrainian boy scouts, teaching survival skills and Ukrainian language), he was asked to create a weekend study program for the boys. In response, he opened a five-and-dime style counter at the corner of East 9th Street and Second Avenue where the boys could buy paper clips, cigarettes, lighters, and, notably, bowls of borscht and other basic Ukrainian foods. The business expanded into another storefront on East 9th Street a decade later. After Wlodymyr’s passing in 1972, it was taken over by his stepson, Tom Birchard, who was later joined by his son, Jason. Today, having worked at the restaurant since he was a teenager, Jason has “done every single job possible here except cook the borscht. ”When Jason joined the team, one of his first projects was to find out, “How late can we stay open? ” It turns out the answer was “all night. ” As Tom and Jason once again prepare to expand the restaurant into an adjoining storefront on 9th Street, they are eager to continue serving the next generation the kind of traditional Ukrainian food that Wlodymyr would have had at his counter more than sixty years ago.
Shahrzad Ghajar, founder of the gift shop Spooksvilla + friends, takes curation to another level. She meets with each of the artists represented in the store and personally chooses every piece showcased on the walls and shelves. Shahrzad, herself, is a talented artist, and many of her designs are featured in the shop. By focusing on the artists, Spooksvilla ensures that everything for sale - from apparel to wall art - is one-of-a-kind. “We like to be representative of original people doing original things— be it art, products, charms or any other kind of cool item, " said Ethan Velez, manager of Spooksvilla. Despite the fact that multiple artists contribute to Spooksvilla, the store is not a hodgepodge of styles. Rather, the art is united in its bold, whimsical designs. A favorite is the label on the bottle of the rose bath salts - a piece of art in itself. A woman with purple skin and purple hair rides a pink dragon, holding, of course, roses.
Serving an interesting but decadent assortment of coffees, hot cakes, desserts, Japanese tapas, sandwiches, pasta, and more, Hi-Collar functions as many things. In the morning the atmosphere is subdued and relaxed like a coffee shop, as customers come to enjoy “kissaten” – a term to describe Japanese-style coffee shops. The lady we spoke to at Hi-Collar told us their coffee selection is extensive and that there are a variety of beans to choose from. Not only is there the opportunity to select the bean varietal, but one can also choose how the coffee is made as well: pour over, aeropress, or siphon—each method drawing out a distinct flavor. For the non-coffee drinker, there are teas and even a fruit milkshake. As the afternoon wears on and evening approaches, Hi-Collar becomes a bar complete with wine, sake, and beer. Inquiring about the name, we found that Hi-Collar is in fact a term that came to be during the Japanese Jazz Age, when Western culture infiltrated Japan and many men were seen wearing Western style high collars. The only seating available is at the long bar, and the beautiful flowers and lamps that hang from the ceiling add to the allure of this multifaceted nook on 10th.
The essence of Duo is in its name; it is two things at once. It is dulled colors and clean lines, minimalist in feel but simultaneously filled with warmth and softness. Both young and old, vibrant and calm, it is modern and fresh but brings to mind memories of simpler times: of handwritten letters, cozy Sunday afternoons and soft breezes over the wide open fields of northern Minnesota, the owners’ home state. Conflicting and complementing all at once, Duo is the product of two minds at work. Sisters Wendy and LaRae Kangas have created a perfect little fashion oasis that fits right in with the small town vibes of Manhattan’s East Village. Growing up, Wendy and LaRae pestered each other and fought over clothes, as siblings will do, but in 2008 they decided to open up a shop together. Today, they work with dealers and emerging independent designers throughout the country and pick all their clothing, accessories and home goods by hand, combining masculine and feminine styles with modern silhouettes and vintage traces to curate a timeless collection of quality, classic pieces. “It’s a very personal process, ” they told me, “and we put a lot of love into our shop and our collections. ” Nothing at Duo is mass-produced, and most of their merchandise is recycled. The sisters pour their hearts into the shop and work hard to stay true to themselves while keeping an eye toward the future, expanding their business into the world of e-commerce and social media. “It’s important to stay current and give the customers what they want, ” they said. They love what they do, and working with family makes it even more fun, according to the sisters. “It makes work smooth when you don’t have to verbalize what you’re thinking, ” they told me, “We just know what each other is thinking and it makes choosing products and daily operations much easier. ”Duo is a celebration of creative spirit. It is clear that the sisters revel in the one-of-a-kind individuality of each and every one of their customers who come to them looking for pieces that will express their own unique style. When explaining what they love about their work, they said, “It’s great to make a customer feel better when they walk out the door. ”