It may not be the perfect economic climate in which to open a new travel bookstore. But that didn't matter to the proprietor of the Idlewild Books, David Del Vecchio. "People said, 'Are you crazy opening a bookstore in this economy?'" he said.
Even so, he forged ahead ó in a location that seems to offer an even greater challenge. Housed in the second floor parlor room of a townhouse on West 19th Street, Idlewild is just blocks from the Barnes & Noble at Union Square.
Yet despite the location and economy, Mr. Del Vecchio, a former press officer for the United Nations, has faith that New Yorkers will continue to buy books at his specialty shop. "People will always be reading," he said. "New York is a very literate city."
During his first month in business, Mr. Del Vecchio noticed that travelers have been shifting destination preferences rather than forgoing trips altogether. Customers have shown an interest in locales such as Argentina and Brazil, where the American dollar goes further than it does in Europe, as well as an increased demand for literature on domestic travel.
New Yorkers and travelers alike may recognize the name Idlewild as the original name of JFK International Airport. The name is both an homage to the city and an effort by Mr. Del Vecchio not to limit the store by giving it a strictly travel-related name. "I didn't want to brand it," he said.
While a travel bookstore is not a new concept, the way that Mr. Del Vecchio chose to approach the setup is a departure from the conventional. Books ó be they travel guides or fiction ó are organized geographically, with as little as half a shelf or as much as a whole case devoted to a particular location. Within each section, readers can find guidebooks, language instruction, and volumes on history, as well as literature by authors native to the region and literature about the region.
The concept is meant to inspire exploration and encourage visitors to make their own connections. "The geographic layout has this connection to the early, innocent days of travel," Mr. Del Vecchio said.
So for those jetting over to India, Idlewild is a one-stop shop for copies of "India Chic," a look at Indian hotels, palaces, havelis, and spas, and "The White Tiger," a novel by Aravind Adiga about class struggle in India. For those spending time in Paris, the handpicked selections related to the French capital include: "Madame de Pompadour" by Nancy Mitford and Amanda Foreman, which tells the story of Louis XV's famous mistress; "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly," the autobiography of the former editor in chief of French Elle, Jean-Dominique Bauby, and the no-nonsense guide "Time Out: Paris."
The salute to New York continues with a section devoted to the city. Here are guides, literature, coffee-table books, and more. On the shelves are: "The Suburbanization of New York," a series of essays about the forces reshaping the city; "Radical Walking Tours of New York," a guide to unsung spots, and "Subway Memories," a collection of more than 30 years of color photographs, published to coincide with the New York subway system centennial.
Mr. Del Vecchio realized the need for a travel-book store organized in this way when he was preparing for trips to Africa with the United Nations, where he spent 10 years as a press officer of refuge affairs dealing with conflict and post-conflict.
"I thought to myself, 'Why doesn't somebody shove this together?'" he said.
Ultimately, Mr. Del Vecchio's goal is to develop a set of regulars (which he already sees forming) and to create a sense of community. He considers the tidy shop, with its globes, high ceilings, and hardwood floors, as an event space. Since opening, he has hosted a number of discussions and signings, including the American book launch and reception for "A Town Like Paris" by Bryce Corbett. His next will be in September, and the topic will be sex trafficking.
With his store now open and foot traffic growing, this Virginia native is hoping to increase the number of events to one each week. He is hoping to build an Internet presence to compete in the age of Amazon.comand to increase significantly the inventory of literature in translation. And although Idlewild is looking to increase its promotion efforts, Mr. Del Vecchio is taking it slow: "I'm happy to be under the radar while we work out the kinks."
Idlewild Books (12 W. 19th St. at Fifth Avenue, 212-414-8888).