Between the shelves at The Corner

"We know our books, and we know what people want," says Chris Lenahan, the store buyer and manager at The Corner Bookstore. Photo: Ray Sherman
In a digital age, independent bookstores are thriving, due in no small part to the personalized touch of people like book buyer and manager Chris Lenahan.

Chris Lenahan wouldn’t mind spending our entire interview talking about books.

“I’ve been a huge reader all my life,” says Lenahan, the store buyer and manager at The Corner Bookstore.

With a background in history and literature, Lenahan was a natural to assume his responsibilities at the shop, at Madison Avenue at 93rd Street. Part of his job entails sitting down with publishers several times a year to peruse catalogues of upcoming titles. Lenahan always keeps two things in mind: the store’s point of view, and his customers’ perspectives.

“For this neighborhood, we do a lot of good literary fiction, as well as a lot of mystery and suspense fiction, and a lot of really good nonfiction, a lot of biography, a lot of history.”

In the era of Amazon and e-readers, Lenahan says that “indies” like The Corner Bookstore offer one thing the internet cannot: human connection.

“I think small stores like us, we provide personalized service. We know our books, and we know what people want,” he says.

For instance?

“Two biographies were sort of dueling it out over Christmastime. The Ulysses Grant by Ron Chernow and the Leonardo da Vinci by Walter Isaacson. Both of them sold enormously well,” says Lenahan.

The Corner Bookstore, which opened its doors in the late 1970s in a restored brownstone that boasts a terrazzo floor and tinned ceiling, is more than a place to pick up a new title. The store also hosts numerous events showcasing local authors, often shining the spotlight on debut novelists, and is connected to schools in the neighborhood as well.

“Having been here for 40 years, many people kind of see us as an anchor in the neighborhood and we’re really glad to fulfill the role,” says Lenahan. “What I love about this neighborhood is that it really is a neighborhood. A lot of people think of 86th to 96th Streets along Madison Avenue as the main street [of this neighborhood].”

The bookstore is more than just a place to pick up a new title in no small part due to Lenahan, who has worked at the local establishment for nearly 30 years. He’s doing what he loves — talking about books — and it shows. So what’s on his must-read list?

“I’m reading a few things. I just finished a short novel called “The Tin Man” [by Sarah Winman] and I just read the new Richard Flanagan novel [“First Person.”],” he says.

He mentions a debut novel, “Asymmetry” by Lisa Halliday, and “The Golden Age” by Joan London. Lenahan could go on, but he’ll save it for the customers. Customers come in looking for not just books, but a connection.

Says Lenahan, “It’s this, I think, that’s what kept us going.”