«Last year, someone submitted a squirrel census, and we bought that». Thriving in the digital era, in the words of owner and founder Emma Straub
Books Are Magic was born in May 2017 and is home to a plethora of readings, featuring new releases, all-time classics, children literature, poetry, and a hint of oddity, as owner and founder Emma Straub confides. Together with her husband and co-founder Michael Fusco-Straub, Emma lives and works in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn, where the decision to open the bookstore, considered with the care reserved to a child, originated from both a choice and a necessity. «My husband and I opened Books Are Magic because our favorite local bookstore, where I had worked some years earlier, decided to close». The choice was between opening a bookstore or moving to another neighborhood, and «opening a bookstore seemed easier,» Straub confides.
The bookstore is easy to spot due to its pink-on-black mural on the side of the building, though Straub admits that the mural was added later «and was to our surprise a smash hit». As for the interior, the owners wanted a space that filled with daylight, with the effect of inviting people in. Ceilings feature an equilibrium of exposed and white wooden beams, while walls equipoise white surfaces and exposed stone. Light fixtures and hanging lamps complete the atmosphere.
Books Are Magic makes an effort to involve children and teenagers, to whom the owners dedicated a room complete with child-size chairs and cushions for coziness during the reading experience, since, in Straub’s opinion, it is to children that books mean the most. «Ask any kid who had to attend school via the computer: the screen is a sorry replacement».
Reading in the digital era is a complex matter now that we are surrounded at all times by multimedia stimuli, with literature bearing the brunt of it, and now that pandemic-related restrictions and protocols are creating difficulties for businesses across all sectors. In a time when customers can feel discouraged from heading out to go flip through books in search of something to buy, independent bookstores may still thrive by «opening online shops, offering a shipping service, and maintaining a connection with readers who aren’t walking through the door for the time being». Books Are Magic manages to cater to customers by keeping a profusion of genres in stock: fiction, non-fiction, poetry, memoirs, translated literature, art books – «We’ve got it all,» Straub affirms. Fiction is the top-selling, but the owners were surprised by the popularity of cookbooks: «We didn’t know how hungry the neighborhood was». Books Are Magic is also open to book submissions. Straub admits how local authors with a hint of oddity can rest assured of finding a place on her bookstore’s shelves. «Last year, someone submitted a squirrel census, and we bought that».
The interest for a sense of oddity is matched by the bookstore’s involvement in social and racial justice issues. Books Are Magic’s website mentions several organizations working towards racial justice, readers can make donations and have access to more details on the bookstore’s website. Straub makes no secret of the commitment and her opinion on these delicate times is definitive. «I don’t think there’s anything delicate about it», she states: in her eyes, the exacerbation of racial discrimination and violence cannot be denied, and should be attributed to the hostility of the current American government in regards to social justice issues.
All events hosted in the bookstore were suspended due to the Covid-19 pandemic and the number of customers allowed inside are being limited and so are the members of the staff on-site, but Straub is optimistic: «I must say, I’m amazed at how normal it feels now». Books Are Magic is now hosting a series of online events such as virtual talks. «We are still getting books into people’s hands, and that’s what matters».