Strand Books, the Homeless and the Left


Long time New Yorkers may remember Strand Books for its past as an edgy bookstore that carried off the student and oddball intellectual vibe with a maze of metal bookshelves full of used dusty tomes, locked glass cases of first editions and an oddball staff with a tendency to write its own graffiti on the walls.

That’s mostly past tense. Under the influence of the owner’s daughter, who also happens to be married to Senator Ron Wyden, raising some questions about whether he really lives out West, Strand Books got a Barnes and Noble makeover with lots of polished wood, open tables of books and tons of souvenir nicknacks.

The 8 miles of books slogan has been deemphasized. Strand isn’t really a place to browse for hours anymore. It’s more of a place to buy the latest bestseller.

The change coincided with the gentrification of the area. (What will happen now in De Blasio Time is an open question. If the Village reverts, Strand may have to return to its roots.)

The new store has run into the ire of the left even though it’s one of the few independent bookstores left in an area that once used to have a ton of them.

First there were the usual accusations of racism. Strand Books used to pride itself on an overeducated and underpaid staff that knew everything about books. That staff is mainly an ornament when the usual shopper is there to pick up 50 Shades of Grey or something by the latest New Yorker celeb author, but it got flak over diversity.

And now there’s the homeless thing. Strand Books dumps a lot of its used books into carts that it sells quickly and cheaply out front for a quick turnaround. And those carts stand under its giant awning.

Signs reading, “Warning: Sprinkler System Will Run Periodically From 10:30 PM-9:00 AM” were placed on the wall of the bookshop at the corner of East 12th Street and Broadway. Some homeless people said they were doused when they tried to sleep on the sidewalk in front of the store, store employees and the homeless said.

“It was to keep people from sleeping out there,” said a Strand bookseller who asked that her name not be used. “People used to sleep over there and in the morning we have to put out the book carts, so it was a little bit difficult and uncomfortable for some people.”

Strand co-owner Nancy Bass Wyden — who is married to U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) and is the granddaughter of Strand founder Ben Bass, who opened the shop in 1927 — said in a brief phone interview Thursday that she was “not sure” about the reason for the sprinklers.

Strand manager Eddie Sutton denied the sprinklers were intended to disperse the homeless, saying they were there to clean the sidewalk.

Both are probably true. Homeless sleeping habits don’t exactly make for a clean sidewalk. But the sidewalk over there is a mess anyway. And homeless people can often be found browsing the carts.

Still Strand Books never used to be that finicky. Neither did its employees who used to embrace the slumming. But the bookstore wants a different image now.

And it’s running on some old practices in a much more liberal time. Strand Workers are unionized (by the United Auto Workers), but there are constant threats of strikes. And the racial issues won’t leave the store alone. Now it’s got a homeless problem too.

So much for a place where bearded Marxists once used to browse for radical tomes.

  • DogmaelJones1

    I remember the Strand from the 70’s and 80’s, and spending hours ranging over the eight miles of books, and often finding bargains for books that were selling for six times the price in tonier uptown stores. Yes, that part of town was rich in second-hand book stores, most of them gone now. But I don’t think I’d want to patronize the Strand as it’s described here.

    • Daniel Greenfield

      I remember those days myself. It was still possible until around 10 years ago

      I think most of the old store was banished to the basement. Some bits of it are still left, but yes it’s basically B and N without the lattes and cookies.

  • A Z

    I would not simply buy books from the store if the homeless were leafing thru them.

    If the homeless are dirty (& they are), they are going to leave germs on the whatever they touch. You get too any people in any area and you will have easy spread of microbes. I have seen a pink-eye epidemic among 3,000 people confined to a small piece of real estate. They were all healthy and had good medical care. Nonetheless, too many people in too small an area and you will get transmission of something.

    Leftists are such easy targets. They would never let 5 or 20 homeless come to their house and start handling things. they would make up some excuse, but It would not be that they were germaphobes.

    • Daniel Greenfield

      Used books are by default, well used. They’re bought in lots often and the storage conditions can be less than ideal. And you have no idea what the previous owner(s) had.

      Some of the books are harvested by professional collectors, others by people lower down the economic ladder who are just looking to sell books by the lb, some of them homeless

      It’s part of the risk package.

      • A Z

        True, but germs degrade over time. Retro viruses degrade in matter of days to low levels. Corona viruses and others I do not know.

        There is always risk, but why take a larger, more active, current risk?

        • tagalog

          In my case, I’m less worried about picking up some disease than I am about the filth they leave behind them and the general ickiness of leafing through a book that’s shedding dirt clumps and bits of dried food.

          • A Z

            I get Daniel’s post above. There is 2 parts to my response. One is the level of dirt/germs. I am talking thresholds. I think the level would be higher with homeless, usually. The second is it bugs you a little more if you see it.


          There is a danger with paper money as a point of infection.

          I always wash my hands after handling paper money.

          • Daniel Greenfield

            Paper money is a vector all right.

          • A Z

            So are touch screens for credit cards. Kroger use to have touch screens that would respond by using the edge of the car when you tapped it.

            Walmart does not. Not only are the Walmart screen less sensitive but you cannot jab them.You have to hit them & leave your finger there for a split second.

            Still the theory is people need to be exposed to so many germs to get calibrated. but I do not think those germs include TB and other stuff.

    • tagalog

      At the public library in my city, the derelicts go through the books and leave crumbs of dirt and food in the pages. They also sit in the chairs and use the computers (to surf the net for porn or play games in many cases), leaving their detritus behind everywhere.
      When I complained to the library district in writing, I received a reply that said that the library district was exercising compassion for the less fortunate. I decided not to write back, telling them that my taxes (which are of course mandatory) are going to support the library district’s notions of compassion for people who spread nastiness everywhere they go, no matter how pathetic they may be.

  • Gee

    I remember downtown Oakland used to have dozens of used bookstores that one could browse for hours and hours. All but one are now gone

    • Daniel Greenfield

      Amazon did its work


        And Barnes and Noble did its work in overwhejlming the small bookstore.

        • Daniel Greenfield

          Yup. First B and N and Borders chewed up the indies. Then Amazon chewed them up. Borders is gone. B and N will go eventually.

  • cacslewisfan

    Maybe the new owner is just a good businesswoman and a secret Conservative.

    • Daniel Greenfield

      Good businesswoman maybe, conservative no

      • cacslewisfan

        Lol. Liberals love the homeless as long as they are “over there.”

        • Daniel Greenfield

          Safely in a shelter they can volunteer at

  • tagalog

    I too have purchased many a book at the Strand, as well as the 8th Street Bookstore, which no doubt is no longer in business. The infamous third floor in the latter was where you could pick up the most esoteric leftist publications. But I got my Marx collection (of which I divested myself a long time ago) at the Strand.

    If the sprinklers used to clean the sidewalk outside the Strand discomfit the homeless sleepers on the sidewalk, who are undoubtedly breaking the law by doing so, well, so be it. I’ll look to see if the Strand has a website and send them an order just to let them know that not everyone is scandalized by their actions.

    • Daniel Greenfield

      Closed a long time ago. They wouldn’t have been able to afford the space today anyway. But they were sort of recreated as the St Marks bookshop. But that’s also near closing. I think they’re trying to get customers to donate to keep them open.

  • Rocky Mountain

    I lived in a well known big city in the mid-sixties until the early seventies and there were a lot of great independent book stores. I went back a few years after I left and was horrified that one of my favorites had converted their shelves to cook and diet books and all the usual detritus that passes for reading material these days. I don’t totally mind Barnes and Nobel because at least there are sections where I can browse for a couple of minutes before a pack of soccer moms rumbles past looking for a Harry Potter or Vampire book. Seeing the rows of computer and business books sends a shiver down my spine with apologies to all you computer jocks out there.

  • A Z

    I saw a building in New York that if not a highrise was a few to several stories tall. Homeless people had their own room with a solid door about the size of jail cell 8 by 10 or 12 by 14 but without a roommate or a toilet

    I would not want to live there of course. But I would rather live there then on the street.

    You have shelter and a secure place to store your stuff. They probably provide meals and showers and toilets of course.

    In short all of the lowest level of Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs. With that taken care a person can find a job go to a community college and start climbing.

    That place was impressive. Why they allow anyone to be on the street is very much misplaced liberal compassion.

    • Daniel Greenfield

      Most homeless people are crazy. Also most homeless shelters aren’t built to those standards yet.

      Also some people who pretend to be homeless actually raise money while living in public housing.

      • tagalog

        Actually, the last statistics I saw on reasons for homelessness cited a 40% (severe) mental illness percentage among the homeless, with another 30% being addicts of one kind or another. I once worked in a mental hospital’s detox center where they classified drug addicts among the mentally ill for record-keeping purposes. If you count addicts among the mentally ill, it’s at least a 70% percentage rate of crazy people among the more-or-less hopeless (or at least homeless derelicts) mentally ill.

        • Daniel Greenfield


          Urban areas in the 21st have too many options for anyone to voluntarily live on the street unless they have mental problems or are anti-social, etc

          • A Z

            Anti social is no fun. I would bet many are bitter. Maybe they could be a ranger someplace remote where they can be productive, have some self worth and get over it in time. With a salary of course.

          • Daniel Greenfield


            Lately I’ve been seeing a large white hipster homeless contingent, in their 20s and 30s

          • A Z

            I’ll concede most if not all the point.

            I have been hit with the word hipster quite a bit. It sounds like an educational and cultural problem.

          • Daniel Greenfield

            I think it’s people drifting from city to city, some may be Occupiers

          • A Z

            You do not make friends until you can or will do an honest days work in your profession. You won’t please everyone but you will get along with more than not. And you will also find friends at that point.

            My point is these floaters have no gainful work and probably will not make any good friends either. Anti- social comes easy at that point.

          • Daniel Greenfield

            True. Some are part of a counter-culture, probably have wealthy parents, but slum by not working. Others look like junkies.


            Trust Fund kiddies slumming.


            They call themselves “occupy wallstreet”.

      • A Z

        True. This building looked to be one of a kind. I really will have to look up its’ name.

        I am not sure how many people would benefit from this type of shelter. I’ll estimate 1/3rd. I know of a Protestant church run organization that runs some shelter locally,. The men there live 2 to a room, which is not bad. They are/were mostly drunks. The have to listen to sermons as part of the deal. The preacher is a character. But it is not bad considering what real poverty is in the 3rd world. I have seen it and lived around it.

        I am not sure what to do with the truly crazy as the liberals will not allow institutionalization. I believe that you can get many ill people more or less straight by drying them out. That is drying them out and one or more years of counseling.

  • Daniel Greenfield

    The New York Public Library is increasingly dispensing with books to become what you described. Except it caters more to teens.

    • Chavi Beck

      What a lost opportunity. Enforcing the rules would actually be very helpful to the unfortunate, teaching them the rules of society that nobody (maybe) ever taught them.