For at least the last 15 years—when this North Ridge kid first started regularly traveling to the south side of Fourth Avenue, to rent VHS at the old Hollywood Video (even though I worked at its rival!)—Verrazano Deli & Grocery (9130 Fourth Avenue) has been selling tattered paperbacks and junky hardcovers from boxes and ramshackle bookshelves, which stuff the entranceway and line the sidewalk. It’s the oldest and oddest bookshop in the neighborhood—if you could even call it one. It’s part bookstore, part permanent sidewalk sale.
Bay Ridge has had bookstores my whole life: the mall-like Bay Ridge Bookstore (formerly 8508 Fourth Avenue, now half of a Kumon), where I’d spend lonely hours as a tween scanning the spines of assignment paperbacks; the late 90s’ short-lived Book-a-Brac (formerly 8724 Third Avenue, now House-N-Key Realty), which may not have even actually sold books; and of course, A Novel Idea, recently reborn as the Bookmark Shoppe (8415 Third Avenue), which long hid used books in the back but recently moved them up front. (You’re free to check them out, but I’ve already gotten most of the good stuff, at least until the next batch arrives. Sorry!)
Verrazano must have been selling used books since the unfriendly—at least to an annoying kid like me—twosome that ran the Bay Ridge Bookstore were the only retail booksellers in town. (The bodega also sells records and children’s books.) I stopped by recently to peruse the selection, spotting vintage copies of James Jones’s Some Came Running and Great Short Works of Leo Tolstoy, an Elements of Style that still has its front cover and a less-fortunate copy of Nelson DeMille’s Charm School, which I almost bought (because he’s a better writer than he gets credit for from people who never read him!), except the front and back covers were a little too torn, even for a buck.
Still, don’t let that stop you. This is what New York was like before Bloomberg made it a safe haven for corporate chains: a city where a bodega might sell frayed bits of mass-market fiction for a dollar a piece, just because. Enjoy it while it lasts.