First Look: Inside Emma Straub's New Brooklyn Bookstore

The "Modern Lovers" author decided to open Books Are Magic after her beloved neighborhood bookstore closed.

 books are magic brooklyn
Photography by MAX TOUHEY

Walk into the just opened Books Are Magic in Brooklyn’s Carroll Gardens—which soft launches today in honor of Independent Bookstore Day and will officially welcome visitors on Monday—and you might not find flying carpets (yet…) but there is a feeling that a little pixie dust has been sprinkled everywhere.

 emma straub books are magic
Photography by MAX TOUHEY

Author Emma Straub (Modern Lovers, The Vacationers) and her husband Michael, a graphic designer, only signed the lease for the former clothing store in February and came up with the whole idea to start a bookshop just six months ago, when their neighborhood’s beloved Book Court closed after 35 years of being in business. “People were heartbroken—I was heartbroken!” says Straub. “We needed to offer people a rope to hold onto.” 

 books are magic smith street
Photography by MAX TOUHEY

With two months to pull everything together, the couple set to work on the easiest task. “We worked for the Magnetic Fields for 10 years. I was Stephin Merritt’s assistant forever, and we would make and sell their merch on the road—that’s our comfort zone. It felt less intimidating to begin there.”

 books are magic mugs
Photography by MAX TOUHEY

With a series of midnight blue mugs, enamel pins, stickers, and pens proving that the project was reassuringly real, Emma and Michael then turned to ordering books—10,000 to be precise—which will line the same wooden shelves sourced from Book Court.

 books are magic pink walls
Photography by MAX TOUHEY

Restaurateur and designer Matthew Maddy (a college friend of Straub’s) oversaw the build-out, adding extra streamlined shelf space where needed and scoring giant sheets of dead stock Formica in the perfect shade of dusty blush to use as partitions (the walls are painted Peach Kiss by Benjamin Moore). 

 books are magic kids section
Photography by MAX TOUHEY

On a tour of the shop, Straub points out some of her other favorite features: A deconstructed chandelier hanging above the kids’ area in the back with neon pink and orange wires she dubs “the octopus”—as well as papier mâché mobiles of Alice in Wonderland, James and the Giant Peach, and Harry Potter planned to be strung up in the coming weeks. 

 books are magic octagon cubbie
Photography by MAX TOUHEY

She promptly crawls into an octagonal reading nook built into a corner, explaining, “Whenever I have a phone interview, I sit in here.” (Conference cubbies: genius!) In the front, long rolling tables from Ikea will make space for events (39 are already planned for the summer, starting May 9th).

books are magic couch
Photography by MAX TOUHEY

The pièce de resistance? A sink-in-and-never-get-up tufted leather couch, which comes straight from Straub’s dad’s office. It’s the same spot she used to sit on and read while growing up. The magic lives on.

 emma straub books are magic
Photography by MAX TOUHEY

Emma's current top five reads:

Sunshine State by Sarah Gerard
Delicate Edible Birds by Lauren Groff
South and West by Joan Didion 
Books Are Magic is now open at 225 Smith Street, Brooklyn. Check out Emma's love letter to the indie bookstore in our Summer issue, on newsstands in May. 

Published on April 29, 2017 - 7:30am EDT

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