The Arts

The Alt Holiday Gift Guide: Bookstores

The Alt Holiday Gift Guide: Bookstores

Books make the best gifts
By: Katie Cusack

There is a deeply personal connection between humans and our literature. Those stories that keep us questioning the world around us in newfound enlightenment, laughing and jeering, or that sometimes inexplicably move us to tears. We’re on the lookout for genuine storytelling: to better understand human relationships and capability, to get lost in the setting and become captivated the power of place. Who surrounds us? What makes this place matter? From their genesis, books have been a source of power. Once a commodity to the wealthy and educated, Gutenberg’s printing press handed the reproduction of knowledge and storytelling to the common man and cracked open the world. Today, book-lovers hold on to those stories like talismans. We break in new copies, delighting in the crackling of the freshly glued spine and gingerly handle the aged, faded and worn. We fold earmarks into their crisp or faded pages to revisit words that hit us like a ton of bricks, while we pore over our favorite chapters again and again. We carry copies on our person (to open in case of social emergency), scribbling notes in margins, losing hours of our own reality to travel to another. We huddle over them in shops, pop-up sales and street fairs, searching for the words that will pull us into its narrative and push us out the other side scrambling for more. Luckily, the bibliophiles in the Capital Region have plenty of places to get their fix.

Here are just a few:

296 Hudson Avenue, Albany

Shelves upon shelves full of well priced, used books from the floor to the ceiling just waiting for avid readers to explore to their heart’s desire, located in Center Square.

Tues. – Thurs.: 11 AM to 7 PM, Fri. – Sat.: 11 AM to 5 PM

522 Washington Avenue, Albany

Mostly functioning as a used textbook store for UAlbany students, the hub named after the Rat Pack singer-dancer legend “Mary Jane” also sells various fiction, nonfiction and foreign language literature.

Mon. – Thurs.: 10 AM to 5 PM, Friday: 10 AM to 4 PM


381 Sand Creek Road, Albany

This unique bookstore and Pokémon Go hotspot is home to books, games, Friday night pick-up tabletop role-playing games. On your next visit, say hello to the live-in feline friends Bob Too and Harmony.

Mon. – Wed., Sat.: 11 AM to 9 PM, Thurs. – Fri. 11 AM to 9 PM, Sunday: noon to 5 PM

1475 Western Avenue, Albany

The Book House is the place to go for a good selection (especially their local-focused features) in a well-organized space. The connected Little Book House is it’s adorable neighbor, home to a selection of children’s books and toys.

Mon. – Fri.: 10 AM  to 9 PM, Saturday: 10 AM to 8 PM, Sunday: 11 AM to 6 PM

537 Central Avenue, Albany

In the mood for a graphic novel or comic? Head for Earthworld. They’ve been the go-to for die-hard fans for decades, responsible for “rotting minds and seducing the innocent since 1983.”

Mon. – Tues., Sat.: 11 AM to 6 PM, Wed. – Fri.: 11 AM to 7 PM, Sunday: noon to 5 PM

Urban Aftermath Books
295 Hamilton St., Albany
& Cheesecake Machismo
293 Hamilton St., Albany
By John Rodat

With its wide variety of second-hand and antiquarian books, recorded music, toys and eccentric collectibles, Urban Aftermath looks a bit like a recently unwrapped holiday, in itself. From high-  to lowbrow, first editions to pop oddities, from paperback The Name of the Rose to vinyl Alvin & the Chipmunks, Urban Aftermath offers a delightful and surprising array of media and artifacts for the culture hound on your gift-giving list. Its constantly shifting inventory means no two visits are likely to be quite the same, so why not bring your intended recipient along with you and make a day of it? Let them pick their own gift – the place is beyond reasonable, it won’t break the bank. You can chat with knowledge and gregarious owner Hassan Elminyawi, and then head next door to Cheesecake Machismo for coffee and the best dessert you can imagine. (I strongly recommend a slice of the Caramel Toffee cheesecake; it’s crazy good.)

Wed. – Sat: 11 AM to 5 PM

I Love Books
380 Delaware Ave., Delmar
By Miriam Axel-Lute

Confession time: For many years, I believed that I Love Books in Delmar must be a glorified gift card shop whose books were probably cutesy hard cover gift books like 10 Reasons Why Your Cat Would Buy This Book and Chicken Soup for the Last-Minute-Shopper’s Soul. Why I had developed this idea, I can’t tell you, especially in the face of many people’s evident fondness for the place. Perhaps in all the hype about disappearing small businesses it was too much to believe that a shop of its type was still flourishing in a little downtown block only a few storefronts long. Perhaps I had peeked in the window and seen the gifts and cards front section of the store and not understood its depth.

Having kids forced me to confront how wrong I was. The key to I Love Books, locally owned for many years, is its back section, crammed to the hilt with shelves of well-curated children’s books and a huge selection of toys and games and goofy gifts that it is hard these days to find all in one place, especially outside of a big box store. As soon as I set foot in the place for the first time, I understood why it was a destination for people seeking gifts, and also why my children thrill get gift certificates to use there. Rather than trudging through acres of aisle proportioned for shopping carts, shopping in I Love Books is more like exploring. The experience of turning a corner and discovering another stash of goodies is delightful. It’s a reliable place for scoring multiple gifts for the younger children on your list, and enjoying yourself while you do it.

Monday and Saturday: 10 AM to 5 PM, Tues. – Fri.: 10 AM to 8 PM

365 Feura Bush Road, Glenmont

Voted one of this year’s best used bookstores in the Capital Region by the Times Union, this spacious spot boasts a variation of 19,000 titles to browse through and plenty of area to lounge around.

Mon. – Wed.: 10 AM to 5 PM, Thursday: 10 AM to 6 PM, Friday: 10 AM to 7 PM, Saturday: 10 AM to 2PM


7 Phila Street, Saratoga Springs

Packed to the brim with over 100,000 books, antiques and prints, Lyrical Ballad spreads out across eight rooms. Since 1971, the store has been expanding their collection of comics, arts, science, local history and travel literature.

Mon. – Sat.: 10 AM to 6 PM Sunday: 10 AM to 5 PM

424 Broadway, Saratoga Springs

A large general bookstore with a widespread children’s area offering books, magazines, stationery and gifts attached to the Berkshire Mountain Bakery. So technically… there’s no reason to ever leave.

Sun. – Thurs.: 10 AM to 7 PM, Thurs. To Fri.: 10 AM to 9 PM

68 Weibel Avenue, Saratoga Springs

Have a dollar on you and enjoy the thrill of the hunt? Explore the warehouse stuffed to the brim with books. You’ll need to do some digging, but for just a buck you can find some real treasures.

Every day: 1 PM to 5 PM


128 Jay Street, Schenectady

Located on the pedestrian Jay Street dotted with various coffee shops and boutiques, this charming and cozy indie bookstore has been tucked into downtown Schenectady for over 45 years selling thousands of books and other treats.

Mon. – Fri.: 10 AM to 8 PM, Saturday: 10 AM to 6 PM, Sunday: 10 AM to 5 PM

600 Union Street, Schenectady

Operated by the Friends of Schenectady County Public Library, all proceeds from this quaint corner store’s sales go towards the library system.  Stocked by local donations, everything sold here is under just $10.

Mon. – Fri, Sat.: 10 AM to 4 PM, Thursday: 10 AM to 7 PM,  Sunday: 1:30 PM to 3:30 PM

1704 Van Vranken Avenue, Schenectady

The oldest comic book store in the Capital District always keep their readers up to date with their favorite graphic novel or comic book series with new issues in every Wednesday. They have 70,000 back issues to peruse as well, with affiliating supplies and action figures.

Mon. – Fri.: 11 AM – 6:30 PM, Saturday: 11 AM to 5:30 PM, Sunday: noon to 5 PM

1414 Union Street, Schenectady

Open by appointment, Pagiri Books is a picture of rarity. The store is home to eclectic collectible books, art galleries and other items, ranging from 17th century reads to Italian graphic novels and comics.

For an appointment: (518) 391-8027


412 Fulton Street, Troy

For avid comic readers and magic game players, Aquilonia is your place to call home. The shop in downtown Troy has a wide selection of comic series and collector’s items, but leaves room for their large gaming tables that host scheduled magic card game and RPG tournaments.

Tues. – Fri.: noon – 6 PM, Sat. and Sun.: noon to 5 PM

290 River Street, Troy

This bookstore, marking the intersection of River and Third Street in historic downtown Troy, is hard to miss: “The store is flooded with light in the daytime and in the winter the swirling snow creates a cozy snow globe effect,” the store’s blog reads. Don’t you want to see that for yourself?

Mon. – Fri.: 10 AM to 6 PM, Saturday: 9 AM to 6 PM, Sunday: 11 AM to 3 PM


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