New York For One: Union Square

A Danish variety store and an independent bookstore.

Union Square
Union Square. PHOTO Sylvia Yu

This past summer I spent a good deal of time—more so than usual—in and around Union Square. The company that I interned for was a few blocks down from it, approaching Flatiron, and on some lunch breaks if I didn’t pack anything that morning, I’d purchase a falafel wrap from a food cart (or a chorizo burrito from another, depending on the day), stroll through the namesake plaza, and sit on one of the benches in the park and people-watch. Unless they were blatantly obvious, you couldn’t tell who was a tourist and who wasn’t; we were all basking in summer in the busy city. There’d be young couples with their napping children in strollers, artists and their sketchbooks heavy with ink, white-collar workers scrolling through their phones with the occasional nips of their sandwiches. The occasional busker (breakdancers, singers, musicians who collected money in their guitar cases), middle-aged woman selling fruits and bottles of iced water. And HONY too, one of these days, I’m sure—though I’ve never seen him in person, I’ve seen the Instagram posts—and then I’d daydream about what sort of poignant story I could tell him, if I could even materialize one on the spot. 

Union Square
Union Square. PHOTO Sylvia Yu

Underneath the greenery of the overarching trees the sultry August in New York became much more bearable; there was a faint breeze, drying the sweat on my back which had clung to my shirt, gently turning the pages of my book, one by one. Once I had cooled down, the sunlight that filtered through the leaves was then pleasant, kissing the top of my head softly and enveloping me with red warmth. If I had some extra time before returning to work, I’d stop by the nearby Trader Joe’s afterwards for their dried fruit, Nordstrom Rack to peruse the clothes, or Innisfree to sample some of their hand lotion (and maybe purchase more eyeliner—the Powerproof Brush Liner in particular stays dark and heavy throughout the day; it has become a favorite). After work, however, I had seemingly endless time to spend the early evening, in the bustling, evergoing Union Square, and I’ve become quite acquainted since. 

Union Square
Union Square. PHOTO Sylvia Yu

My workplace was right by Flying Tiger, a Danish variety store chain that sells all sorts of knick knacks (decorations for home, stationery, children’s toys, accessories, and the like) from flamingo erasers to eye-shaped mirrors for your bathroom to hilariously aggressive tote bags that read “Recycle or Die” (the first time I had seen it, I asked the person where they had gotten it from, to which they directed me here). The store makes a wonderful destination for aimless shopping, stocking stuffers considering the many weird and useful things you can find that you didn’t think you needed (a fake Oscar trophy for kicks? Absolutely necessary). It’s also pleasant to simply look at, as expected of Copenhagen design: the interior white, immaculate, and minimalistic, with a touch of zany—Flying Tiger is laid out a bit like a maze, zigzagging from the entrance to the exit. 

Flying Tiger
Flying Tiger. PHOTO Sylvia Yu

Even though I’ve converted to an e-reader in the last year—something I never thought I’d do considering how much I like physical books, their feel and even smell—I still like to occasionally stop by a bookstore or two when I have the chance. (What I like to do is look at the books solely by their covers, disregarding author and name and judging by design, and buy one blindly, which is quite exciting.) One I’m particularly fond of, though, is Strand, an independent bookstore close to Union Square, in the direction of East Village. Outside the store are their used, discounted books going for a dollar to five, and you can find some hidden treasures there: a few classics, obscure titles, a novel or two containing a little handwritten note inside or other vestiges of a past owner (you can also donate your own books, I believe). The inside of the store contains three floors of immense books (bestsellers, new releases, signed books, first-print books, rare books ), records, and miscellaneous merchandise, which makes for 1) hours of wandering, 2) gift or souvenir shopping (so many different tote bags!), and 3) a good (Tinder) date (spoken from experience). Whether you have intentions of buying a book or not, Strand is a staple, and an adventure to explore.  

Strand Bookstore
Strand. PHOTO Sylvia Yu

Sylvia Yu


Sylvia is likely wearing a black beret. She's a fan of ruminating, admiring everyday design, and shopping at the dried fruit aisle in Trader Joe's (in no particular order) - sometimes all three at once.

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