What Is A Curated Bookstore?

At Gramercy Books, we call ourselves a carefully curated neighborhood bookstore. But what exactly does curated mean to you?

I recently asked members of my book club.

Ruth suggested that in addition to ordering from publishers’ catalogues based on reviews, a curated store purchases books “as if it were a person stocking her own library and loaning books out to friends.” Tanny agreed. She thought a curated bookstore is one that “feels personalized when I walk in. Like I’m being guided in the direction the owner wants to take me.”

“A curated bookstore seems to be a place where one can go to experience the warmth and wisdom of books,” Jamie added. “It is a place where the owner has helped select books that are different, interesting, maybe even out of date or hard to find.”

Suzy equated curated with a finer eye by the owner and staff, and suggested perhaps they have a special interest in certain subject matter that would expose customers like her “to new exciting authors from all over the world.” She anticipates “walking in to find that special read you may not find anywhere else!”

Joy thought of the “curator” like the one at an art museum—a person with knowledge and insights of the work “so that with which I am unfamiliar becomes more understandable to me.” She expects the same of a curated bookstore. “I would hope to rely on the knowledge of the staff as to the store’s inventory, as well as the particulars of some authors. I like the feeling of walking into a space that’s curated because I anticipate learning something. There’s a human exchange of thought.”

Only one of my book club friends admitted she had never heard of a curated bookstore before. But as Teckie considered bookstores she loved, she opined that such a store would be comfortable and might have spaces for people to be alone and quiet, but also offer ample opportunity for the customer to ask the sales staff about the books. “Certainly the staff should be well read and knowledgeable about the inventory.”

Ruth took that a step further. “In some stores, recommendations made by individual employees are marked as such so that you would get to know that person’s taste and could then rely even more on his or her recommendation. It’s certainly a homier feeling than walking into a large chain store.”

I asked if a curated store in one city might be different from a curated store in another. Joy was quick to reply. “Absolutely. One curated bookstore in a particular city could vary from another, based on the store’s offerings,” she said. “One store may have an emphasis on poetry; another on books about musicians. You name it!”

For Jamie, there’s a common thread to all curated bookstores. “I love the feeling I get when I sink into a chair and check out a title. I also envision it to be a place where there is good coffee, at least near by.”

I couldn’t help looking up the definition in the dictionary. According to the New Oxford American Dictionary, curate means “to select, organize, and present, typically using professional or expert knowledge.”  So, all my book club friends were right, even Teckie who had never heard of the term.

What is a curated bookstore? My general manager, John Gaylord, and Gramercy Books store manager Debra Boggs, and I agree that it is about selection—careful selection, personal selection. We like the book. We believe our customers will like it. We believe that it is important.  We might believe that it will positively impact the community.

A bookseller can’t read every book, so curation becomes intuitive: the owners and manager stock books they think customers will enjoy. We curate alongside a rich offering of bestsellers and recent releases. We curate within the broad range of books we carry—from art and architecture, music and film to biography and history, business and sports, cooking and gardening, poetry and classics, and lots of books for children of all ages.

As Ruth suggested, we include those books we might want in our personal library. And we hand sell those books that we’ve read and that have touched us. Eventually our customers rely on, and trust, our recommendations.

As we like to say at Gramercy Books: Come here if you’re seeking. We’ll help you find it.



Written by Linda Kass

About the author: I began my career as a magazine writer and correspondent for regional and national publications. My debut novel, Tasa’s Song, was inspired by my mother’s early life in eastern Poland during the Second World War, and won a Bronze Medal for Historical Fiction from the Independent Publisher Award Program. I am now the proud owner of Gramercy Books, central Ohio’s newest indie bookstore!

Learn more about me on my personal website.