Located amid the chaos of Williamsburg's Bedford Avenue is Spoonbill & Sugartown, an independent bookstore stocking new and used titles in a wide range of genres: cooking, art, design, architecture, music, literature, and everything in between. (It's also home to one of my favorite magazine racks in the neighborhood, and an always-dependable selection of books on sale for just a few dollars each, on display on shelves and tables outside.)
Opened fifteen years ago by Miles Bellamy and Jonas Kyle, the shop has been around long enough to witness an almost complete transformation of the neighborhood. Lining what were once much emptier streets are now a Madewell, a J. Crew, an Urban Outfitters, a Dunkin' Donuts. Whole Foods is set to open steps away in 2015. Still, Spoonbill remains standing. (Five years ago, The New York Times reported, the store celebrated a decade of business with women in white singing, "May the books flow 10 more years.")
Funnily enough, my first memory of Brooklyn is of this very store. I was visiting the city in 2002 as a high school senior, and my older brother brought me to Williamsburg, telling me it was an area he'd heard was popular among "the cool kids." I remember feeling confused as we emerged from the subway station — it was quiet, and seemingly empty. Nothing like the New York City I imagined (or the Williamsburg that exists today). Why would anyone want to live here? I wondered. Then we walked through Spoonbill & Sugartown, and I felt suddenly, surprisingly at home. It was, unbeknownst to me then, just the beginning of a long, much-cherished love affair.
Spoonbill & Sugartown, Booksellers, 218 Bedford Avenue, (718) 387-7322
Mon-Sun 10am - 10pm
Tell me about opening Spoonbill fifteen years ago. What inspired you to start a store? It was 1999. Williamsburg wasn't anything like it is now. It was grimier. It didn't have a worldwide reputation. The warehouses and factories were still functioning as warehouses and factories, and it was still a relatively unnoticed part of the city. I'd known Miles, who was working with his father in the art business at the time, since we were in high school. He'd always wanted to open a bookstore and asked if I wanted to do it with him. We got wind that this building — an old sweater factory —was being converted into apartments and stores. There was an art community based here, and we decided to open our store to serve that community.
What's surprised you most about the ways in which the neighborhood has changed since then? The speed and scale of the changes have been remarkable. What's funny to me is that a lot of people think we're a tourist spot. In many ways, we have become that. Many of our customers are visitors to the city.
Lastly, do you have any reading recommendations to share? The Wallcreeper by Nell Zink was very good. I'm reading In the Dust of This Planet now — it was featured on Radiolab; after that, people started asking about it. I'm also reading Adventures in the Anthropocene, by Gaia Vince, a science writer who basically gave up her job to wander the earth exploring the effects of climate change. It's very smart.
Thanks so much, Jonas. Visit the Spoonbill & Sugartown website for more information, here.