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McNally Jackson Books, New York. Inside the Nolita indie scenario

Founded in New York in 2004 by Sarah McNally, a former editor at Basic Books and daughter of Holly and Paul McNally, the owners of the Canadian McNally Robinson Booksellers chain

A retail crisis in Manhattan

The bookstore café does not have Wi-Fi – which keeps freelancers and neighbouring NYU students at a distance, making for an ever rarer view. People talking to each other, and enjoying an immersion in a book. Book pages characterize the wallpaper, and a dozen books hang from the ceiling. Books take up space, which in Manhattan has become expensive enough to amount to something of a retail crisis. There is pending city legislation that would give small businesses more security. This includes the right to a ten-year lease and the chance to negotiate rent increases with the help of an independent arbitrator. Yet McNally Jackson Books still encountered issues revolving around this.

In 2018, in fact, McNally Jackson Books saw a $500,000 raise in rent at its Prince street location. The store’s annual rent increased sixty percent from $360,000 to $850,000. This therefore brought the store to near-move. When the news broke online that the store would be leaving the Prince Street building it had always occupied, panic spread on Twitter. After weeks of negotiations and lots of online speculation, McNally managed to make a deal with the landlords. It renegotiated a lease. 

Mcnally Jackson Books in New York

In a time and place where independent booksellers are disappearing, McNally Jackson Books in New York is growing. The bookstore was founded in New York in 2004 by Sarah McNally. She is a former editor at Basic Books and daughter of Holly and Paul McNally, the owners of the Canadian McNally Robinson Booksellers chain. At first the store operated as a branch of the Canadian chain. But after a few years, McNally, along with her then husband Christopher Jackson, decided to make it independent, and renamed the shop McNally Jackson.

McNally Jackson’s flagship store is located at the corner of Mulberry and Prince Streets, in Manhattan, in the heart of Nolita – or NoLIta (for North of Little Italy). A small neighbourhood squeezed between SoHo, Little Italy, the Lower East Side and Chinatown. The area displays the meeting of high and low culture. Luxury fashion boutiques, in fact, sit next to same day service laundry shops. Pizza parlours next to artist studios, gyms and wine stores. Nolita is also the heart of ‘foodie’ New York, offering brunch spots, award-winning restaurants and cafés. The neighbourhood’s streets are busy on any day of the week with locals, tourists, and young professionals. On weekends, street vendors sell hand-made jewellery and artwork line Prince Street.

The bookstore’s location in Nolita

On Mulberry street, between an Italian leather shop, a tailor and a cowboy-boots outlet, sit two smaller McNally Jackson stores, although not books. McNally partnered with Goods for the Study, a stationary company. It opened two stores, at number 236 and 234, identical in size and décor. One is entirely dedicated to pens, and the other entirely to notebooks. The notebook store was opened in 2013, whereas the pen shop, formerly a privately owned print store, was only added in 2016. 

McNally Jackson’s location in this trafficked spot was a critical decision for its success. The founder’s business model is, in fact, built on brick-and-mortar browsing. The main bookstore sits just around the corner from St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral, and directly across from the Do Kham Tibetan boutique, with jewellery, fashions, accessories and antiques from the Himalayas. Expanding over three-thousand-two-hundred-and-fifty square feet on the ground floor, McNally Jackson’s bookstore includes a café, an in-house printing press which publishes hundreds of novels a month, and an Espresso Book Machine, which creates and binds a book on demand. 

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Lampoon review: Book selection at Mcnally Jackson

While so many bookstores have cut back on inventory, to concentrate on events, stationary or other branded merchandise, McNally Jackson have gone deeper with their book catalogue. It is estimated that the Prince Street bookstore has fourteen thousand books in the literature section alone. The bookstore caters to all kinds of readers. Whether you would like to educate yourself in Arabic poetry, or read about the theoretical and practical implications of AI. 

McNally Jackson arrange their literature by geography, which is not a common practice in bookstores. You can therefore browse from the Mediterranean shelves (which is a mix of Italian, Spanish, Portuguese and Greek writers) to the neighbouring Irish and British shelves within the same gaze. French literature also has its own bookshelf, as does Russian. American literature abounds. In addition to the poetry collections, the classics, and well-published poetry names, the corner also features a chapbook selection. Indie publishing houses, and small presses are on display. 

The bookstore’s new location in Williamsburg

In January 2019, McNally Jackson debuted a new location in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Housed in a former steel factory, the Brooklyn bookstore is a collaboration between Sam MacLaughlin, a former bookseller for the Prince Street bookstore, and McNally Jackson founder Sarah McNally. The Williamsburg outpost has already gained a good following in the months since its debut. The Brooklyn site does not have a café. 

In addition to the Nolita and Williamsburg locations, McNally Jackson is also at The Shed, the new arts centre at Hudson Yards, on Manhattan’s west side. The Shed shop features a catalogue of books responding to art centre’s programming, with selections of international literature in translation, contemporary poetry and essays, continental philosophy, issues and politics as well as art and art theory. The shelves also include recommendations from the Shed’s artists, curators and program team.

McNally Jackson’s latest location opened in September 2019 along the waterfront at 4 Fulton St. in a seven-thousand-five-hundred-square-feet space.  The bookstore saw some delays in the opening. It was initially planned for August 1st, due to renovation delays and longer bureaucracy obtaining the liquor licence. As a matter of fact, this venue also includes a cafe with beer and wine.

Mcnally Jackson

52 Prince St, New York, NY
McNally Jackson Books is an independent bookstore based in New York. Sarah McNally owns and operates the bookstore.

Editorial Team

The writer does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article.

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check and buy on Prototipo Store
item collections in limited edition
crafted according to our editorial search

Hemp / made in Italy
Lampoon is working to restore
Hemp production in Italy
as hemp is the one and only
natural vegetal fiber sourceable in the country
for more info, please email us at [email protected]

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