With wife Connie Rourke, Lexi Beach established The Astoria Bookshop in August 2013. The 1,200 square foot storefront under the elevated N/Q train line has become a community hotspot, patronized by several Queens-based writing collectives and reading series, including Boundless Tales, the LIC Reading Series and Oh! Bernice. The store hosts a book club, a storytime for children’s books, the occasional celebrity author, and maintains an active calendar.
Elizabeth Frank: You recently (7/14/15) tweeted: “Anyone worried about the future of independent bookstores should take a look in my front windows today. Mobbed.” Can you describe what was going on that day?
Lexi Beach: That was the day that Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman came out. The store was packed from open to close. We offered some happy hour drinks and snacks to customers, to celebrate the publication, and then our regular monthly open mic storytelling show was that evening, as well, so there was quite a crowd by 6pm.
Frank: In addition to running The Astoria Bookshop, you also serve as its events director. What have you done recently that you’re particularly proud of, and what are you looking at in the fall?
Beach: I’m proud of hiring an events coordinator!
Seriously, though, I was incredibly proud to have brought Roxane Gay to the store at the end of May. She has become one of my favorite writers, and many of our customers feel similarly about her. It was an honor to have her read at the store.
Coming up this fall, we’ve got some great events. Dave Roman will be here for his new Teen Boat graphic novel on Saturday, 9/5. Elizabeth Sanders reads from her debut novel The Last Light on 9/29. Erik Didriksen launches Pop Sonnets on 10/6, a book drawn from his tumblr of the same name. And Samantha Berger and Isabel Roxas will present their picture book Boo-La-La Witch Spa on 10/17. And we’re constantly adding events to the calendar, so keep an eye on it (or sign up for our newsletter).
Frank: What led you to open a bookstore?
Beach: I kept hearing from friends and publishing colleagues who live in Astoria that the neighborhood really needed a bookstore. I was working in publishing at the time, in a job that was an increasingly bad fit, and started daydreaming about the idea of opening my own store. Then I started talking to other bookstore owners in the city, and doing market research to decide for myself if Astoria could support a bookstore. And every question I asked led me to believe that if I didn’t do this, someone else would. It was only ever Astoria in my mind. I wanted to fill a hole in the market.
Frank: You offer support to local authors in a variety of ways, from hosting readings by local groups to ensuring that the books of locals are in the store. Do you believe there is an emerging literary scene in Queens?
Beach: There are tons of writers living in Queens, and there seem to be new projects cropping up all the time–reading series, literary journals, writing workshops, literary festivals. It’s a really exciting community to be a part of, and I’m very happy to be able to offer a physical space for some of these groups and events to convene.
Frank: Everyone comments on how well curated your selection is in such a small place. How do you do it?
Beach: Thank you for saying so! That is the part of the job I like the best. The inventory is a mix of my personal favorites–and favorites of my slowly growing staff–books that are highly recommended by friends (I called in a lot of favors when I was first opening to get friends with particular expertise to curate certain sections for me), books that my sales reps point me towards, and books that I just have a hunch about, based on what I’ve seen my customers are drawn to so far. Some of my steadiest selling titles are books that customers recommended, in fact.