Located on the Upper East Side of Manhattan in Carnegie Hill, The Corner Bookstore has been in business 44 years—since 1978—and is a glowing monument to what any bookstore should be.
3RP’s own Peter Carlaftes recently went uptown to 1313 Madison Avenue to talk with manager Chris Monahan.
Peter Carlaftes: How long have you been the manager/owner of The Corner Bookstore?
Chris Monahan: In 1988 I was hired as the buyer for the new adult books and over time took on more management tasks as the owners, Helene and Ray, slowly removed themselves from the day to day running of the store.
PC: What changes have you brought to the store since being in charge?
CM: I’m not sure I’ve initiated that many changes since the store has always run well the way Lenny and Ray had it set up. Small things yes like trying different theme windows, expanding those. I did start our first reading program by writing a personal note to the author of a book I really liked
PC: Of course COVID restrictions hurt everyone. What has been your biggest challenge during the pandemic?
CM: Not sure where to start but essentially the first few months when we were working 4x as hard for one quarter the revenue and didn’t know if the store would survive was probably the worst. And only being able to have one staff person in the store at any give time. Over time of course the challenges changed—I never thought I’d be a “doorman” at the bookstore regulating customer traffic but I spent many months doing that. And though your question was about the challenges I would like to mention the incredible support we had from the community here, people did some extraordinary things like buying gift certificates in multiples that they didn’t intend to use and another customer distributed hundreds of gift certificates to hospital workers in the area.
PC: What’s the new “normal” at The Corner Bookstore?
CM: Really now only slightly reduced hours and of course masks, we still require them to err on the side of caution. Having had as many as three readings per week not having any for the past two years was a major change. We did have our first this Tuesday so we our slowly returning to them. That is probably the biggest change coming up for us though I’m not sure we’ll ever be doing three per week again.
PC: What is the bookstore’s role in the community?
CM: Many people see us as one of the linchpins of Carnegie Hill and a natural meeting spot. This is in part because the store has been here for 44 years but we are also very connected to the schools in the area. There is a real continuity too, I have many customers who grew up and got their books at the store and now come in with their children, so it is multigenerational. A young woman who worked for us for five years started coming to the store when she was four, she’s now a librarian at a school. We have hosted readings by authors whose first printed work was a review they did for our Kids Review of Books which is a program we do twice a year. For every year except the past two we have had a Christmas Eve open house which has become a tradition for many in the neighborhood, hopefully it will happen this year again.
PC: What kind of books do you ”specialize” in at The Corner Bookstore?
CM: We don’t really “specialize” but we are strong on children’s books, good literary fiction and nonfiction(especially history, a personal favorite), cookbooks, art books, a good and eclectic mystery section. A recent change for us which started before COVID but then grew even more with its onset was developing a philosophy section—we had always just integrated them into our nonfiction. I think what we do really well is our selection for each area in the store
PC: What are some ways that people can support and order from The Corner Bookstore?
CM: Come by and buy some books. We ship anywhere, will order any book we can find including out of print titles. Phone orders are always welcome (212 831-3554), as are email orders (email@example.com). We send an email out once a month with new titles for the month as well as any upcoming events.
Check out https://cornerbookstorenyc.com/ to find out more about their history and offerings.