Penn Station Gem Shops Broad Array of Mafia Books

Manhattan has changed with the times to a startling degree, and not always in good ways.

Take for example the death of the mega bookstores, which rolled into the city like the Russian T-34 tanks at Stalingrad in 1942, only to start fading from the region with startling rapidity in a handful of years. Back when I covered my nut by freelance writing I even reported on this tragic phenomenon for The Real Deal. Rising rents, a whopping global recession, along with the advent, and then onslaught, of ebook readers hungry for content that is practically given away by online behemoth helped solidify this trend.

Walk around Manhattan and you likely won't see a single bookstore.

Gone is the giant Barnes & Noble that occupied nearly an entire city block on the Upper West Side, where you could easily disappear for a day, sitting in a comfy chair beside a stack of books you handpicked from the shelves. On those disgusting, sopping 90-degree summer days, it provided an icy haven, complete with a coffee bar where you could sip a tasty caffeinated beverage while perusing a thick, meaty hardcover about some topic you never knew interested you.

The Borders near Penn Station added convenience to the usual perks of the behemoth bookstores: a wide selection, good pricing with lots of discounts and even a plentiful DVD assortment upstairs. Poof, it is gone too.

Now it is up to the explorers among us to find the hidden gems that managed to hold onto their leases through the down and dirty 2008-and-beyond financial crisis. I happened to find one, only it is not so hidden. And readers of this site in particular would love it.

I am talking about Penn Books, the bookstore located on the lower concourse of Penn Station by the Long Island Rail Road. Right there among the hot dog and popcorn vendors and a giant shoe-shine shop where the employees dress like the Blues Brothers, this bookstore has a wide, deep collection of organized-crime related books, as the proprietor Craig told us during a recent visit. Growing up near John Gotti's old Queens-based stomping grounds, Craig is a longtime Mafia enthusiast who carries the latest and greatest -- if you're looking for a mob book, he's either got it or will likely be able to order it for you.

We told him about this site and asked him if he minded if we wrote about his shop, with its penchant for mob-related books. He didn't of course (he doesn't only sell Mafia books; he carries a little of everything, just like you would expect to find in smaller bookstores located in train stations and airports).

Drop by and tell him Ed Scarpo of Cosa Nostra News said "what's up!"