Pioneer Works’ new bookstore in Red Hook, which had its grand opening on Tuesday night, is a remarkably small shop. Maybe the size of a very bitty studio apartment. “Wait, is this is? Or do you have back-stock somewhere?” we asked Zach White, the shop clerk. He laughed. “Nope, this is pretty much it.” But that’s kind of the point. “It’s almost like an installation, in a sense, because it’s so small and ever changing,” Zach explained. “I don’t feel like it will ever be a place for ‘I’m looking for this book, maybe Pioneer Books has it’ — instead you’ll come here and know that a book is gonna find you.”
Besides Intercourse, Pioneer Works’ biannual magazine dedicated to “extending the conversation happening at Pioneer Works,” you won’t find multiple copies of books here, but you will find a very small yet very intriguing selection of reads. Rather than big expensive art books (“we’re trying to stay away from that,” Zach explained) Pioneer Books stocks new and used books with subject matter that Zach described as “anything that speaks to creative practice somehow, from philosophy to occultism.” I flipped through a copy of Barthes’ Camera Lucida and soaked up the trippy illustrations through a book on ayahuasca.
As to be expected, the shop also has some selections from Pioneer Works resident artists and a long display case in the center devoted to book-sized works of a particular artist. And opening a bookshop makes sense for the arts organization, not only for the sake of marketing Intercourse, a hefty magazine now in its third issue, but because PW has plans to expand on its own small press, which puts out art books and chapbooks by artists involved with the organization.
But the shop isn’t solely or even mostly about PW’s books. There’s a modest wall spotlighting a rotating small local press. Right now it’s dedicated to Ugly Duckling Presse. The shop also has a nice selection of zines put out by local zine makers and lit mags. Look below the register and you’ll see a few kids books, conveniently located at kid height.
Overall, Pioneer Books has a neighborhoody vibe. Zach lives nearby and said he’s personally excited about having a bookshop close to him and thinks other Red Hook residents will feel the same. “We may not have a lot here, but you can come in and I’ll order whatever you want,” he said.
There’s even a curious zine called You. I picked it up to find it blank. “That’s put out by a local lady, she lives like two blocks away,” Zach explained. “If you buy the zine, we’ll text her– she’s not around all the time, but if she is, she’ll come over and draw your portrait.” But this isn’t just any portrait, it’s a blind drawing. “She won’t break eye contact with you as she draws,” Zach said. “It can be really intense.”
The shop sits about a block from Pioneer Works proper (which, by the way, is hosting an epic Dead Moon show this weekend). “Obviously this is the main drag,” Zach said of Van Brunt Street. “But often visitors won’t know that Pioneer Works is like, right there.” The bookshop, then, is a way to draw attention to the arts organization’s physical location and keep people in the know about what’s happening just beyond their view.
Strangely enough, the shop is a front (in the most literal sense) for Nanotronics, a nanotechnology company that occupies the rest of the building. “They didn’t necessarily want people peeking in through the front windows on what they’re doing,” Zach explained. Wowey. Is this some black-ops Edward Snowden thing? Right here in Red Hook? Disappointingly no, it’s just that the equipment is hyper-sensitive. While we were browsing a Nanotronic employee emerged from seemingly out of nowhere, but when we looked we realized there was a small hidden door in the corner.
So if chill times, great books, and nanotechnology intrigue are of interest to you, definitely head straight to Pioneer Books asap.
Check out Pioneer Books, located at the corner of Pioneer Street and Van Brunt Street in Red Hook, open Wednesday through Sunday noon to 6 pm.