Village Works: A Bookstore Preserving New York’s Cultural Heartbeat

Written by Sage Helene

While our world slips into an alluring and technologically advanced future, walking into a bookstore feels like entering a time capsule. A preservation of the past, with dust on the shelves, piles of books on the floor, and that very specific scent that makes everyone go, “I love the smell of bookstores,” every time they walk through the front door. There is magic in a bookstore that can withstand the test of time and Amazon Marketplace. 

Since the early 1980s, Joseph Sheridan, owner of Village Works, has stood back and witnessed bookstores disappear from the streets of Manhattan. “Fifth Avenue from 42nd [Street] to 57th Street was mostly bookstores,” Sheridan recounted, recalling when Manhattan streets were lined with bookstores. 4th Avenue even coined the name “Bookstore Row,” as it once stretched with bookstores from Union Square all the way down to Astor Place. 

“The city I moved to was pre-internet, pre-cables, pre-pretty much everything.” Think back for a moment to a time before “Book-Tok,” and imagine all the conversations you heard on the street about which books were coming out and what was being reviewed in The New York Times. Without the abundance of social media we have today, walking into a bookstore was more of an exploration rather than wanting the hottest book you’ve seen while scrolling through your feed. With the new expansion of social media and creators promoting books in a new subgenre known as “Pop-Fiction,” there has been a rise in book sales since the 2020 pandemic.  

“We have so many more ways of communicating now, but there is nothing like putting the effort out to learn.” That is where the magic lies in these independent bookstores. The shelves of the local New York City bookstores are lined with local authors, small presses, self-publishers, and books you will never see online.

However, as Sheridan witnessed, it has become much easier to check out with a click of a button because someone online said it was a good read, rather than wander into a bookstore and see what you find. “We have so many more ways of communicating now, but there is nothing like putting the effort out to learn.” That is where the magic lies in these independent bookstores. The shelves of the local New York City bookstores are lined with local authors, small presses, self-publishers, and books you will never see online.

Sheridan decided it was time to open a bookstore of his own. At the time when he was discussing this idea with colleagues, a lot of the responses Sheridan heard sounded the same. “‘Oh, everyone is kind of over New York culture, and just get over the fact that New York is becoming Americanized.’” However, this discouragement did not last long. 

While New York slowly opened up again, Sheridan seized the opportunity and decided to open his bookstore, Village Works. Sheridan’s bookstore, now located at 12 Saint Marks Place, runs through the heart of the East Village. Sheridan’s collection of books curates the store with a specialization in New York City culture from the perspective of The Village. 

Once COVID reached New York City, when the tourists, the students, and the people who had the option to leave vanished from these streets, it was only the New Yorkers who stayed. This was when Sheridan noticed the shift in the tides. Sheridan realized that New York, the one he remembers from 1983, still had a pulse pumping through every borough. However, it was all the noise of construction and consumerism that had drowned out the city’s own heartbeat. 

While New York slowly opened up again, Sheridan seized the opportunity and decided to open his bookstore, Village Works. Sheridan’s bookstore, now located at 12 Saint Marks Place, runs through the heart of the East Village. Sheridan’s collection of books curates the store with a specialization in New York City culture from the perspective of The Village. 

However, Sheridan knew Village Works needed to be more than a bookstore. “Bookstores had just been closing forever around me, and I knew that local bookstores weren’t making it,” Sheridan states. With booksellers like Amazon and larger chains, bookstores like Village Works need to stand out in their neighborhood and be a place to cultivate community. 

That is when Sheridan met Damian and Dominic Bielak in the spring of 2021 when the twins expressed an interest in curating an art show at Village Works with the concept of “Homesickness.” Damian is a poet, and Dominic is a visual artist. They were working together on a project surrounding the feeling of watching their home disappear and become overcrowded with a new generation of New Yorkers. Damian and Dominic grew up together in Williamsburg. As New York natives, the twins have seen how drastically the city has changed, some for the better but some for the worse. 

“They were homesick for what Williamsburg was like growing up.” Sheridan continues, “They really look at Williamsburg as an extension of the east village.” In fact, both the Bielak twins felt the East Village intruded on their childhood. Through this connection of feeling out of touch with New York, the three agreed to work with each other to build Village Works into a place that revives New York culture as it once was. “Our goal is to try to create a shop in a space that preserves and reclaims the city,” said Damian. 

“It is a process that requires patience, you need forgiveness, you need blood, sweat, tears, and hard work, and that’s what it’s like to build something brick by brick.”

By combining their similar experiences, Damian, a poet, and Dominic, a visual artist, bring new youth and vitality to the store. Both twins dream of building Village Works into a space where artists can create and show their work. Damian explains, “It is a process that requires patience, you need forgiveness, you need blood, sweat, tears, and hard work, and that’s what it’s like to build something brick by brick.” By hosting book readings, art shows, zine parties, and other events, the team at Village Works is beginning to form a community of New Yorkers within this rapidly changing city. 

Each neighborhood has its own local bookstore: the Lower East Side has Laams, and Williamsburg has Spoonbill & Sugartown Booksellers. Sheridan, Dominic, and Damien want the shop to be not only a bookstore, but a cultural creator for the East Village. “Our legacy will be the things that the people made in here [Village Works] and put out into the world,” Damien stated with an assured knock-on wood. For Sheridan, Dominic, and Damien, Village Works stands as more than just a bookstore. Tucked away between the rows of smoke shops and a comedy club, Village Works becomes a place to escape the streets of New York when you miss the home you used to call New York. 

On Friday, May 3, from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m., Village Works will host an opening reception for the book release of “My Keys Don’t Fit These Locks No More.” Whether you’re a book lover, an art enthusiast, or simply curious about this vibrant cultural space, make sure to stop by and join us for an evening of creativity and inspiration. Come see for yourself why Village Works is more than just a bookstore—it’s a cultural hub where ideas come to life.

On Friday, May 3, from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m., Village Works will host an opening reception for the book release of “My Keys Don’t Fit These Locks No More.”

Sage Helene is a writer and artist based in New York City. Having earned her MFA in photography from Rochester Institute of Technology, Helene brings a visual perspective to storytelling. With both her artwork and writing, Helene seeks to provoke thought and inspire dialogue. She currently writes for UP Magazine.

Insta: @sage.helene

email: sage.g.helene@gmail.com