In Midtown Manhattan, squeezed in between towering skyscrapers on East 59th Street there is a New York City's oldest independent bookstore. In the age of digital reading many bookstores have predictably closed their doors. Fortunately for booklovers Argosy Bookstore is open. Founded in 1925, the Argosy Book Store is still run by the original owner’s family, the third generation.
The founder of the store Louis Cohen grew up on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, reading to his blind father. He used a $500 loan from his uncle to open a bookstore on Fourth Avenue. In his autobiography, he explains how he chose the name Argosy. First, he wanted a name that started with the letter “A,” “as it might appear foremost on any list of bookstores.” That crass criterion done with, “I ran through some reference books, and selected ‘Argosy’ as my choice, as it had romance attached to it. It symbolized treasure and rarities carried by old Spanish galleons.” (....)
In Greek mythology, the Argo was the ship on which Jason and the Argonauts sailed to retrieve the Golden Fleece.
Cohen moved the store to 114 East 59th Street in the 1931. In 1964 the store was moved next door to its current address when the previous building was replaced with a skyscraper.
In 1991 in obituary New York Times wrote about Cohen: "Mr. Cohen's acquaintance with President Roosevelt began in 1935, when Mr. Cohen stumbled across about 30 children's books from the 1880's, signed by Sarah Delano, the President's mother. He sent the books to the President, establishing a correspondence that lasted several years. In the early 1960's, Jacqueline Kennedy asked Mr. Cohen to supply books for the White House Americana Library, and he also established libraries for the University of Texas and the University of Kansas, among others. He donated a marine research library to Israel and several thousand Hebrew books to Bar-Ilan University in Israel".
Louis and his wife, Ruth, who also worked at Argosy, passed on their love of books to their three girls. Judith , Naomi and Adina run Argosy since their father died in 1991.
Judith Lowry, the first born, is in charge of first editions. Naomi Hample, the middle sister, runs the autographs department. And Adina Cohen, the youngest, presides over the map and art gallery.
In October 2012 the Argosy suffered extensive damage during Hurricane Sandy, when bricks dislodged from the 32nd story of the adjacent building and crashed through the store’s roof. The resulting flood affected the top two floors and destroyed many historical artifacts, including acts of congress signed by Thomas Jefferson (...)
Despite being on 59th Street since the 1930s, the bookstore remains a ‘hidden gem’ to many New Yorkers who will regularly walk by and miss its presence amidst the ever-growing retail buildings. Argosy feels as much like a museum as it does a bookstore. Rare Bibles, manuscripts and first editions of books by Mark Twain, William Faulkner, Emily Dickinson and many others occupy an entire six-story townhouse. Only two floors are available to look through the books and prints without appointment. There is the outdoor book stalls in front of the entrance , which features a wall of $1 bargains and a table of books whose subject matter and prices change frequently but you always can something interesting, unusual and affordable.
Three years ago New Yorker published an article " The Book Refuge Three sisters keep a family business about the store going" and a year ago CBS did a story about Argosy Bookstore.