Brooklyn guide to used book stores

Photo by Annie Wang.

The Community Bookstore. Photo by Annie Wang.

Back in the day, you knew your neighborhood used bookstore. Some of us knew all three of them. Now, these dusty, quirky, often-malodorous treasure troves of recycled literature are a rare, but hearty, Brooklyn breed. But if you know where to look, you can still find a home—and even make a little cash—for your boxes of yellowed, dog-eared pages. Or you can pick up a few of someone else’s. Here’s our guide to Brooklyn’s used bookstores—from dust to dollar-value.

Pranga Bookstore, Carroll Gardens
Despite the seemingly disaffected hipster working the register and the name, which brings to mind some sort of cult, this cozy and well-organized bookstore is neither pretentious nor sacrifice-minded.

Smell: No good ‘ol book smell, though the absence of eau de mildew was much appreciated.
More like a public library than a shitstorm of haphazard piles, each section is organized alphabetically and entered into the store’s online inventory for quick access. Finding particular titles could not have been easier. The first floor houses new books and used fiction, while the second floor is devoted entirely to other used genres, ranging from pop culture to graphic novels. There’s also a dollar bookshelf, but it was mostly slim pickings.
Dust level:
On a scale of 1 to 10, 1 being immaculate and 10 being dusty to the point of asthma attack, this neat and tidy store scores a 3. Some dust—enough to be noticeable but not enough to make us hack up a lung (or two) while browsing.
Quiet, but for some cheerful looking older ladies who wandered in at the ens of our visit.
Best finds:
The entire fiction section, all attractively priced at $3.95 a pop, is an entire find in itself. And it’s far from junk: tons of Haruki Murakami, Tom Wolfe, and Michael Chabon on the stacks, along with a multitude of other popular authors.
Can I sell books/DVDs/CDs?:
Go for it, but only on Mondays, Saturdays and Sundays. You’ll get either store credit (varies) or cold hard cash ($.50 to $25 per book).
Staff summer recommendations:
To Kill A Mockingbird, Bridget Jones’s Diary.

354 Court St. between Union & President Sts., Carroll Gardens. F, G to Carroll St. Mon-Sat 10:30 am-8 pm, Sun: 10:30 am-7 pm.

pranga bookstore

Babbo’s Books, Windsor Terrace
The owner of this tiny storefront has done a fabulous job cramming as much as humanly possible into the store’s narrow layout, and with the great selection comes an added bonus: the store’s resident cat bookseller, periodically leaping from shelf to shelf, more than happy to let you rub her stomach for hours.

Smell: An oddly comforting combination of musty books and kitty cat.
Similar to Unnameable Books, shelves of books wrap all the way around the storefront, with clear handwritten labels telling where everything is. Fun sections like “Books Turned Into Movies” make browsing all the more pleasant.
Dust level:
2, not a speck of dust in sight.
A variety of folks young and old, and apparently everyone who hasn’t gotten the new Stieg Larsson book yet.
Best finds:
A brand new copy of The Celluloid Closet for $5 and a very nicely organized children’s book section, something that many used bookstores lack.
Can I sell books/DVDs/CDs?:
Yes, but only on Sundays, and you can’t bring more than 20 at a time. You can only get store credit, at a quarter of the book’s selling price.
Staff summer recommendations:
The Complete Sherlock Holmes Vol. 1, Girl Meets Boy.

242 Prospect Park West between Prospect Ave. & Windsor Pl., Windsor Terrace. F, G to 15th St-Prospect Park. Mon-Sat 11 am-8 pm, Sun 12 pm-7 pm.

The Community Bookstore, Cobble Hill
Calling this store messy would be the understatement of the century, but the owner’s been quoted saying that he likes it that way, and so do we. To pay for our purchases, an employee had to move seven or eight piles of magazines to find the cash register. We’re officially in love.

Smell: Musty as all hell with a tinge of cigarette smoke tossed in for flavor.
None whatsoever. There are some vaguely labeled sections, but other than that, it’s up to you to dig through the shelves, boxes of books and haphazard piles that are scattered around this cavernous space. This is not the place to come looking for a specific title, though the owner seems, somehow, to know where everything is. God bless him.
Dust level:
A definite 10. If there was ever an appropriate occasion to label something “groady,” this would be it.
Old people who come in, become horrified and promptly exit; and more adventurous younger folk seeking out vinyl and cheap reads.
Best finds:
A ridiculous VICE magazine street fashion book for $8 and tons of trashy romance novels for $3 or less.
Can I sell books/DVDs/CDs?:
Staff summer recommendations:
To Kill A Mockingbird, Ham On Rye.

212 Court St. between Warren & Wyckoff Sts., Cobble Hill. F, G to Bergen St. Mon-Sun 3 pm-11 pm.

The Community Bookstore

The Community Bookstore

Unnameable Books, Prospect Heights
This warm storefront brings a cheerful air to an otherwise glum-looking stretch of Vanderbilt Ave. With big windows allowing lots of light in and an immensely varied selection, this Prospect Heights store is perfect for those who love spending hours browsing for the perfect book.

Smell: Zip, nada, zilch. Nothing but pleasantness here.
Divided straight down the center, with used and new books getting separate sections, all of the store’s shelves are appropriately alphabetized and labeled. Several stacks of books lay strewn about on the floor, but of course they were placed next to their corresponding sections.
Dust level:
4, given that some of the shelves were quite covered in dust (coughing ensued). But the store was dusty in the most charming way possible.
A variety of different folks, ranging from locals to booksellers with carts full of books looking to scrounge up some extra cash.
Best finds:
The entire set of the amazing poet Frank O’Hara’s work for just $10, the entire Gabriel Garcia Marquez bibliography in paperback, each for $5.
Can I sell books/DVDs/CDs?:
Yes, just call ahead to let them know you’re coming. You get 25-30% off of the book’s selling price in cash or 1 1/2 times in store credit (to use only for used books).
Staff summer recommendations:
26.66, Another Country.

600 Vanderbilt Ave. at St. Marks Ave., Prospect Heights. B, Q to Seventh Ave.; 2,3 to Grand Army Plaza; C to Clinton-Washington Aves. Mon-Sun 11 am-11 pm.

Book Thug Nation, Williamsburg
Located in the ground floor of one of those ritzy new loft buildings in the heart of Williamsburg, the middle part of this new store’s name is somewhat misleading, but that shouldn’t stop you from popping in to see what’s goin’ down. The place was set up by a few veteran book hawkers, so you know that the guy behind the counter means business.

Smell: None whatsoever, fortunately or unfortunately for you.
Shelves wrap around the entire wall of the store’s tiny space and, while it may be a bit much to take in at first, rest assured that everything is in perfect order. Books are alphabetized and organized by section, ranging from art books to all things fiction and non. The dollar rack outside yielded no surprises.
Dust level:
A solid 5. No grime or dust to speak of, though some of the older, yellowed paperbacks were a bit gunky upon inspection. Handle with caution.
Bearded twenty-somethings, non-bearded twenty-somethings and local hipsters.
Best finds:
Browsing the fiction section yielded some cool ‘50s Faulkner paperbacks for $5.50 a pop along with a first edition of Last Exit To Brooklyn for $10.
Can I sell books/DVDs/CDs?:
Only books. There are no set buying hours or days, so bring them in whenever you want. Cash or store credit.
Staff summer recommendations:
Moby Dick, The Bonfire of the Vanities.

100 N. 3rd St. between Berry St. & Wythe Ave., Williamsburg. L to Bedford Ave. Tue-Sun 12 pm-9 pm.

book thug nation

21 Comment

  • Salvation Army locations are also good spots to pick up used books.

  • As are libraries!

  • Babbo’s is great! and you are right, the kitty, Holly Golightly, makes it wonderful. The owner, Leonora, will also go out of her way to order books and do what she can to get you what you need.

    But I agree with Jacob–the libraries need out support now more than ever. They are about to be eviscerated by budget cuts.

  • oh man, yall forgot the huge $1/pop for books, movies and cds shop down in w’burg, wythe and like n12th. i just blew $15 there, i’m still nowhere thru the movies OR books!

  • note on the libraries: greenpoint branch is closed for the summer :( normally i am there every week, but it’s dollar store books and salvo for me this summer.

  • community bookstore is going on summer “vacation” in mid july so they are having a huge sale where tons of books are $1 or less. so chances are if you go soon, you will find some great deals if you don’t mind doing some digging. they have a lot of decent mass market paperbacks and classics as well as some really cool out of print books (like the book of art, one of my favorites). pranga staff are nice, generally i’ve found $1 cash per book/CD or $2 store credit. used books / CDs generally run about $4 but are in good condition. there’s another bookstore on atlantic near henry that also has a huge selection, high on the dust factor but fairly organized. sorry i forgot the name offhand.

  • There’s also the place on Court, between Wyckoff and Warren or thereabouts: Excellent organization, okay prices, “collectible” (editions, autographs) stuff as well as standard used. I think they’re the same folks who had a place on Seventh Ave (between 2nd & 3rd?) in Park Slope for a few years.

  • Freebird Books on Columbia Street near Kane Street(Columbia Waterfront, edge of Cobble Hill) is terrific. Great, eclectic selection and pretty well organized.

  • What about PS Books in Dumbo?

  • Atlantic Bookshop (179 Atlantic Avenue) is a great store next to Sahadi’s. The owner is really helpful and the store is super organized. It’s a great stop after Community Bookstore (and the complete opposite world).

  • After years of having to walk past Community Bookstore during the winter – I vowed never to step foot inside. They are one of the only businesses that refused to shovel snow from their sidewalk – or even bother to salt. Always struck me as unbelievably lazy and not very “community”-minded.

  • Don’t forget the ever-changing selection of books (plus furniture, clothes & music) at the Housing Works Thrift Shop on Montague Street.

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  • Brooklyn’s book heaven (and I’m from London). My favourites (no pecking order, no pack drill) are Atlantic, Freebird and Unnameable – haven’t checked out PS yet. And Freebird’s ONLY OPEN ON WEEKENDS, guys – but worth the trek

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  • Great article!

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  • I would tell you about an outstanding one in Midwood, but supposedly-uncool Brooklyn neighborhoods don’t exist in the magical fantasy world of “Brokelyn”.

  • I like being in stores like this. The prices are usually low.

  • Traveling through and wanted to say thanks! This was super helpful.