Namaste has the ability to bring a feeling of calm to almost anyone who walks through its doors. The sensation begins even before entering, as the incense wafts onto the sidewalk. Specializing in Eastern and Western spirituality, there are books on every relevant subject lining the shelves alongside a vast music collection, incense, chimes, tarot cards, and all things yoga. Recently, Namaste opened a healing center upstairs where workshops are held.
I guess it would be quite obvious to those who have been reading my site since the beginning, that my particular passion, besides Manhattan itself, is books. I have been a frequent customer of the Strand since I was a little girl and my mom made this a destination on a New York City outing. Their stock has certainly increased from the few book shelves that they began with in 1927 on Fourth Avenue - to the 4, 000 square feet that they moved to here on 12th Street, in 1956 - to today's space of 55, 000 square feet. The "18 miles of books" consisting of old, new and rare books covers several floors. For years I just treated this shop like it a was museum, especially the Rare Book Room upstairs. I would step in and browse for hours, wanting everything, but not being able to justify purchasing it all. Then I opened my own book shop, inspired by the Strand. Despite their avenue address, the Strand has carts of books lining 12th Street rain or shine and a side street entrance. They also boast a Central Park kiosk open when weather permits and a pop-up location in the Club Monaco on 5th Avenue between 20th and 21st Streets.
Peter Glassman was the kind of child who would move books back into their rightful places while browsing bookstores. Hooked on reading before the second grade, by age twelve he had “read his parents’ home dry. ” Pegged as a bookworm by his friends and family, for his Bar Mitzvah he received over a dozen bookstore gift certificates. Aged fourteen, he applied for a position at a local bookshop but was turned away for being too young. A year later, he was finally able to land a job at a different bookstore, quickly becoming the buyer for its science fiction section. After spending just a year at Brown University, Peter moved to New York and began taking acting lessons. One day, his acting coach said, “If you're going to be an actor, it should be the only thing in life that makes you happy. If anything else in life brings you more joy, then you should do that. ” It was at this moment that Peter realized, “Books are my greatest joy. ”Soon after this epiphany, Peter began collecting antiquarian books, acquiring enough stock to sell. Originally, he thought he would rent space in a basement and have a mail-order business, but then he discovered a humble 200-square-foot location at 444 Hudson Street. With the help of a few friends, Peter cleaned it up, built some book-cases, and went to a wholesale book company to fill the last four shelves with a selection of his favorite titles, including The Cricket in Times Square, A Wrinkle in Time, The Phantom Tollbooth, The Snowy Day, and Where the Wild Things Are. The fervent reader was only twenty years old when he opened Books of Wonder. In 1982, Books of Wonder opened a second store nearby, tripling in size. Stocked with mostly new books, he also offered a selection of old and rare titles. In 1986, he relocated to an even larger space on 18th Street and Seventh Avenue after he learned that Barney's was opening a “fancy” store nearby. He believed that this would attract more families to the neighborhood. He was correct. Peter soon decided that it was not necessary to pay avenue prices. Instead, he could open on a side street. In 1996, Books of Wonder settled on 18th Street, where he hosted readings by J. K. Rowling, Maurice Sendak, and every other larger-than-life name in children's literature. In 2017, Peter enriched the Upper West Side with his second location on West 84th Street. Of the many attractions at Books of Wonder, Peter is most known for his selection of The Wizard of Oz. He was mesmerized as a preteen when he first devoured L. Frank Baum’s series, and it was a copy of The Magic of Oz spotted at the Strand bookstore — with its beautiful colored plates — that inspired him to restore the series to its former glory. Together with Harper Collins, he printed all fifteen Oz books with their original illustrations under Books of Wonder Classics, something never done before. For some forty years, Books of Wonder has been a space where many children have become avid readers, and Peter is always touched when parents remind him that his store also turned them into devoted readers a generation before.
The Anthroposophical Society is an organization whose main concerns are extending the scientific method into the realm of spirituality, fostering "imagination, inspiration and intuition, " and the teachings of Austrian philosopher, Rudolph Steiner. The inventory at the adjoining bookstore covers a wide array of subjects as diverse as parenting, children's literature, biodynamic farming, meditations and spiritual pursuits. It also serves as a repository for the collected works of Rudolph Steiner. The society accepts people of all creeds, denominations, and philosophies in their varied programs, study groups, and events, most of which are held in the bookstore. In addition, this location houses the Center Point Gallery. The gallery provides a staging ground for unconventional art installations and other workshops.
Beneath the Spanish Benevolent Society lies La Nacional, one of Manhattan’s most authentic Spanish restaurants and the most easily accessible part of the society. Just by walking down the steps into the dimly lit basement lounge, we felt the bustle of 14th street quickly recede and we were transported across the ocean. La Nacional has the same relaxed, no frills atmosphere as most tapas bars in Spain. We gazed at the old photographs from the society’s earlier years on the walls and then had the option of sipping a drink at the bar, sampling some classic simple Spanish tapas such as tortilla de patatas, croquetas or chorizo, or dining on a full meal of paella. Perhaps the most authentic option, though, was to simply have a seat by the television to watch the fútbol game - it is always on. For visitors from Spain who want a taste of home, those of us pining for the Spanish travels of our past, or New Yorkers simply curious about a new culture, La Nacional is the place to go.