By Trudy Whitman
Sadly, it is not uncommon to read about independent book stores closing up shop. Big box book sellers (although even those are having difficulty now), amazon.com, and e-readers have rendered the independent shop an endangered species. Yet for entrepreneurs that spy a void, the niche book shop can still work.
Take David Del Vecchio, for example. A former United Nations press officer, Del Vecchio saw that Manhattan lacked a book shop devoted to the inveterate traveler, so he opened Idlewild Books in 2008 on 19th Street just off Fifth Avenue. Before JFK Airport was JFK Airport, it was Idlewild. The name was changed in 1963 after the Kennedy assassination. Idlewild, the book shop, features stained glass from the original airport.
Idlewild Books offers the total immersion experience for customers planning voyages. Shelves are arranged by country, and in addition to guidebooks and maps, the shop sells travel literature, novels, cookbooks, and travel accessories. Titles in French, Spanish, and Italian were added next by Del Vecchio, and then came courses in those languages taught by native speakers.
The language courses were very popular, selling out every quarter, Del Vecchio told me during a telephone conversation. They were in such demand, in fact, that he needed room to expand, and as many of the language learners were from Brooklyn, Del Vecchio began searching here for a favorable location. At 249 Warren Street, at the Court Street corner, a small antiques store used to operate shoulder to shoulder with a laundry. Del Vecchio saw this twin real estate and immediately envisioned a language classroom right next door to a companion shop that sold books in French, Spanish, and Italian. There will be no English-language titles at Idlewild Books in Brooklyn, he stressed, because he has no desire to compete with BookCourt, which serves this neighborhood so well.
Mary Gannett, one of BookCourt’s three proprietors, sees the new shop as filling a real need in the community. “It’s wonderful for the neighborhood,” Gannett said, “and I know from experience there’s certainly a market for it, especially if they stock foreign-language children’s books.”
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Indeed, the new store will be New York City’s only book shop dedicated exclusively to foreign-language books, Del Vecchio noted — a surprising fact for this cosmopolitan city. The shelves will hold more than 5,000 titles in French, Spanish, and Italian, as well as a large selection of foreign-language children’s books and graphic novels.
Not only will Idlewild Books Brooklyn feature children’s literature, but in addition to classes for adults, it will offer classes in French and Spanish for children aged six and up. The new shop and language center open this week. To read course descriptions, see pricing, or to register, go to www.idlewildbooks.com or call 718 403-9600 or 212 414-8888.
The 8th Annual Brooklyn Israel Film Festival returns to the Kane Street Synagogue, 236 Kane Street, with three award-winning films, “The Debt,” “Restoration,” and “Dolphin Boy,” on January 26, 28, and 29, respectively. “Dolphin Boy,” a documentary about an Israeli Arab teen traumatized by a violent attack, will be followed on Sunday by a Q and A with both the director and a co-producer. For screening times and pricing, go to www.kanestreet.org/IFF.