The story behind The Strand, New York’s most famous bookstore

The rise of technology and the internet brought us ebooks, or electronic versions of books you can read without visiting a bookstore or library. But while the number of Americans reading these ebooks is growing, printed books continue to remain more popular. While that might surprise most people, Fred Bass, the owner of the Strand bookstore in New York, would likely not be shocked.

The Strand turned 90 years old this year, along with Fred, whose father opened the store in 1927.

The Strand’s Legacy

Benjamin Bass began the used bookstore with $300 of his own money and $300 from a friend. Eventually, it became the only store still left in what was “Book Row.” This area of the city formerly spanned six blocks of 48 bookstores. Today, the Strand carries more than 2.5 million used, new and rare books and literary gifts.

the strand bookstore photo
Getty Images | Mark Sagliocco

Fred says one key to the store’s success was its surviving of the Great Depression,. Back then, his father’s landlord let the store stay rent-free until he could repay the debt once the economy improved. In 1996,  the Basses purchased the building. So the threat of losing it to landlords during a slump in the economy no longer exists.

Now, Fred and his daughter Nancy run the store with a more modern inventory (like tote bags, DVDs and clothing) that have likely helped it survive the 21st Century.

Enter The Strand’s Rare Book Room

But back to the rare books for a second. Some of the books The Strand’s collection quite impressive. Currently for sale (to name a few) is a first edition signed “Charlotte’s Web” for $1,200 and a first edition copy of “On the Road” by Jack Kerouac for $900. According to Gothamist, however, the rarest book is a first edition copy of Ulysses, autographed by James Joyce for $40,000. The most expensive book purchased from the Rare Book Room? A second folio of Shakespeare’s works for $100,000.

the strand bookstore photo
Flickr | joelogon

Aside from the things offered for sale, the Strand also brings in authors for readings and Q&As.  There’s also Strand’s “Books by the Foot” program that lets television and film producers rent books for their shows and movies. They’ve even created set dressings for “Saturday Night Live” and movies like “You’ve Got Mail”!

No one knows what the future holds, especially in this technology-driven world. However, the nostalgia of the bookstore keeps bringing visitors in. I already plan to visit New York City one day. Now the Strand officially joins my list of stops on that trip.