This month, we caught up with Lexi Beach of New York’s Astoria Bookshop, to learn more about their indie bookstore.
What do you think is special about Astoria Bookshop? My staff are the best thing about the store. Every person who works for me brings something unique and valuable to the team. As the business has grown over the last 10 years, every time I’ve been able to expand my staff, the store has become better and more interesting.
If money was no object, what changes would you make to the shop? I would raise the starting wages for my staff to $25/hour and offer them comprehensive healthcare at no cost to them.
How / why did you get into bookselling? I started my career in publishing, and honestly never thought about working on the retail side of the business. But after a rambling series of jobs, while looking around for the next step, I started hearing from friends and colleagues in Astoria that the neighborhood needed a bookstore. After a week of daydreaming about what it would be like to open a store myself, I figured I should start doing some research. A few months later I got laid off from the job I’d been trying to leave, and a year after that the doors opened on our first location.
What’s the funniest interaction you’ve ever had with a customer? I have a terrible memory for personal interactions, but a recent recurring funny conversation was in the leadup to moving to our new space, which has a back patio. Many customers asked what I was planning to use the patio for, and every time my reply was that I would be sitting out there in the sunshine with my dog, and every time I realized a beat too late that they wanted to know what function it would serve for the business and not me personally. (I’m also growing herbs, flowers, and tomatoes.)
What’s your favourite And Other Stories book? Signs Preceding the End of the World by Yuri Herrera
What book published in the last year do our readers need to get their hands on? On Repentance and Repair by Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg came out from Beacon last September.
She gets into the differences between repentance, atonement, and forgiveness, and the place each one has in interpersonal relationships, and even our treatment of the planet. It’s rooted in Judaic philosophy, but absolutely relevant to people of any or no faith. I had bookmarked a thread of hers on twitter that covers a portion of these lessons, but the book of course goes much deeper and broader.
What would be your desert island book? Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra. I studied it in college over the course of a semester, and I absolutely loved it, but I still haven’t read the Edith Grossman translation. It’s a book that contains so many separate stories, I think it would keep me occupied for a long time. There’s an opera called Don Quichotte that is 5 acts and basically only covers one chapter of the novel.