Yu & Me Books | Manhattan

A photograph of bookstore owner Lucy Yu sitting at a desk with book open in front of her
Lucy Yu, owner of Yu & Me Books. Photo credit: Olivia McCourry

WALKING THROUGH THE streets during winter in New York City can be beautiful but also a challenge. You’re either trudging through snow or the temperature can be below freezing for multiple days. For anyone living or visiting the city, it’s vital that you find a cozy haven to which to escape.

When I first visited Yu & Me Books, it was the beginning of December, and this bookstore became that escape. Located in Chinatown in lower Manhattan, it is one of a few bookstores within the area but is the first Asian American woman-owned bookstore in the city. The walk from the Canal Street station was cold, and you could still see the remnants of snow that fell just a few days before. The buildings tower over you, looking gray and brown in the cold air, but once I got closer to Chinatown, a red banner stood out amidst the concrete. The bookstore sits between local businesses and dim sum restaurants and faces Columbus Park, where residents of the neighborhood bring their kids, play board games, and relax.

Once I reached the entrance, I pulled on the door yet it wouldn’t budge. I pulled again, thinking the bookstore was closed and I would have to walk back in the cold. With one more pull it finally opened with the help from someone inside. “It’s kind of heavy,” they said as I walked in. The person who helped me was just a visitor, who sat back down at a board game table at the front of the store with three friends.

The bookstore is one large room with almost every wall covered in books. On one side of the square there is a counter where the owner, Lucy Yu, sits accented by lamps and fairy lights. One wall also has artwork, including an “Employee of the Month” picture of her basset hound named Odie. In the back there is a small sit-down room with a table and two chairs where two friends were chatting over coffee during my visit. There are also multiple chairs around the small room for those looking for a spot to read.

Yu & Me is a new addition to the neighborhood, with its doors opening for the first time late last year, but it’s always been a dream for Yu, who grew up going to bookstores in Los Angeles, she told me. The bookstore provides a homey getaway from the cold and loud sounds of the city. The hustle and bustle of the colorful Chinatown streets disappears once you begin looking through the shelves of books. The offerings include literary fiction, fantasy, YA, nonfiction, and more with an emphasis on Asian cultural representation and immigrant stories. I ended up picking up a copy of Poet Warrior, by Joy Harjo.

One visit to the Yu & Me Books, and you can tell Yu loves books and providing them for people. Even though it might seem like a small little enclave in the middle of a sprawling city, the atmosphere and cultural recognition give the sense that this little bookstore is somehow timeless. As I pulled myself away from the bookshelves and walked up to the counter, I could tell this place was different from the many other independent bookstores that try to make it in New York City.

 

Olivia McCourry is a journalist from Norman, Oklahoma. She has interned for both World Literature Today and Oklahoma Today and recently graduated with a master of science degree from Columbia University.

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