Poisonous creeks and fault transportation aside, most Greenpointers know they live in arguably the best neighborhood in Brooklyn. And up until three years ago, residents only had one reason to ever leave—to find an English language bookstore. When Christine and Vincent Onorati opened WORD on 126 Franklin Street on March 14, 2007, Greenpointers got a lot more than that. With an amazing selection of titles, a jam-packed events schedule, a literary basketball league, a running club, a Bananagrams tournament series, crafting events, pot lucks, and even a literary matchmaking board, WORD has in just three short years become a one-stop spot to meet all needs, from books, to sports, art, food, community, and love.
On Tuesday night, the independent bookstore and the lovely ladies that run it celebrated their third anniversary at The Diamond Bar on Franklin Street for a night of books, beer, and celebration. The event also featured special guest Zane Lamprey, host of Three Sheets, a TV series about drinking around the globe, and who is also the author of the corresponding book.
Christine Onorati and her husband Vincent moved to Brooklyn to open a new independent bookstore in 2006. After looking for seven months for a spot in Williamsburg, they decided to explore Greenpoint and found a home for WORD on Franklin that same day. Prior to WORD, Onorati had owned another independent bookstore in Long Island for six years, but opening a bookstore in the city was a whole new territory.
“I think for a store like mine to succeed you have to represent your community. If you don’t, nobody will shop there,” Onorati said. “The city is different from the suburbs where you’re competing with all of the box stores and Costcos and Targets. Here, people want to support their local business.”
“I wanted to create a place where people felt comfortable and felt at home,” she continued. “I didn’t ever want people to walk in and feel like they weren’t cool enough to shop at my store.”
WORD’s emphasis on community has paid off, as residents have readily responded to their open attitude.
“I tweeted today that I begged and prayed for an English language bookstore, and not only did we get an English language bookstore, we got the best one. I’m very happy,” said Sherry Wasserman, 23, a native Greenpointer and devoted customer. “They really tailor the store to the neighborhood. That’s saying a lot from a native. They tailor it to me and to the other intellectuals coming over here who aren’t natives to Greenpoint or anything. You can just go and feel included. I always felt when I entered into an independent bookstore that I had to buy something. And you never feel that at WORD and that’s what I love about it. Their events are great; their books are great. They’re like my friends—I can go in and just have a conversation and that’s good enough.”
For the ladies at WORD, the feeling is mutual.
“I count my blessings every day. It’s cheesy, but I do. I never dread going to work. Everyday I love my job. I don’t know many people who can say that,” Store Manager Stephanie Anderson said. “And I love Greenpoint. I think one of the nice things about it is that it’s just great people here. What I personally try to do is just be open to whatever they want. The people who live here are very smart and they know different books and I would be foolish not to listen to them. I’m glad we’ve done as well as we have and I think it’s mostly we’ve made the store what people have asked for.”
“Greenpoint is not the easiest neighborhood to get to, so the people who live and work here really appreciate the fact that they have this bookstore,” Event Coordinator Kelly Amabile added. “That appreciation—we feed off of that and they feed off of it too. It helps that community become stronger. When I say we have friends at WORD, we really do. People shop here, but even if they don’t, they come to events, they play on our basketball team—it’s a community. It’s not just based on the buying and selling of books.”
WORD is a cozy corner store, with books upstairs and a basement downstairs for events. The team is small but mighty: Onarati, the owner; Anderson, the Manager, Amabile, the Events Coordinator, and Bookseller Anna Perleberg. The close-knit group of women has helped the store to grow into the neighborhood institution that it is today—a welcoming space with devoted customers and amazing programming.
“I jumped at the opportunity to work at WORD because I really wanted to be part of a small-knit community,” Amabile explained. “We have such a great community that people come to us with ideas; it’s like stuff just falls into our laps. We get pitches from publishers, but sometimes our customers know us better, and they pitch really smart, good ideas to us. An event coordinator couldn’t ask for anything better. We’ve done a lot of quirky stuff. I’m lucky to be part of a team that’s open to new things.”
WORD hosts an average of six to eight events a month, most of which are the result of collaborations between Amabile, the other women at WORD, and the readers themselves. Rarely just standard readings, the events at WORD are unique and engaging—from a potluck to celebrate the Forking Fantastic cookbook, to a passionate debate centered around Anna Jane Grossman’s Obsolete encyclopedia. Some events are too big for the basement—in December, WORD hosted Isabella Rossellini, who screened her film series Green Porno at Coco66 to hundreds of head-over-heels Greenpointers.
“You felt how the neighborhood just loved how we made that happen,” Amabile said. “That was the best part.”
WORD’s programming also extends beyond the page—they’ve hosted a single’s night in celebration of their literary matchmaking board from the store; their literary basketball league, which last year included over 100 participants, is starting up again; and they’ve also started a weekly running club on Sundays.
“A lot of what we do at WORD is ask, “What do we want to see?” said Anderson, who has spearheaded many of the extracurricular activities. “We do it and hope that we’re not the only people who wanted to see it, and for the most part we’re not, so that’s great.”
While publishers and major booksellers might be struggling during this print-weary recession, New York independent bookstores like WORD appear to be doing just fine.
“Everybody I know in bookselling in New York is doing OK right now,” Anderson said. “New Yorkers are very conscious of their neighborhoods, very thoughtful about what they want their neighborhoods to look like, and very proud. I think that’s a good place to be if you’re a bookseller. People clearly want their neighborhoods to be a certain way and are willing to lead their lives in a certain way to have what they want. It’s really nice; it’s not like that everywhere.”
“There is a sort of new, really cooperative spirit of independent booksellers in new York, especially in Brooklyn,” Onorati added. “We’re good friends with the people who opened Greenlight in Fort Greene; Henry, who owns Book Court, which is probably the best and most neighborhood bookstore in Brooklyn, is here tonight to celebrate with us. There’s a sort of resurgence in bookselling.”
As WORD continues to grow, Onorati and the rest of the gang have high hopes for the store—hopefully expanding in both physical size and programming. Amabile WORD birthday wish is that a marriage will arise from the in-store matchmaking board. Greenpointers—that one is up to you.
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