Welcome to Argosy Bookstore, Manhattan's hidden gem

NEW YORK -- In Midtown Manhattan, squeezed in between the skyscrapers on East 59th Street, is a six-story literary oasis. 

The Argosy Bookstore has been in business for 91 years now. It’s run by three sisters.

Judith Lowry, the first born, is in charge of first editions. Naomi Hample, the middle sister, runs the autographs department. And Adina Cohen, the youngest, presides over the map and art gallery.

All in their 70’s now, the three sisters have run Argosy since their father died in 1991.

A lot of people come into the shop and wonder why the sisters are still there. “Every day,” said Adina. “Especially real estate brokers.”

“We are here because we own the building. Otherwise we would’ve had to go out of business long ago,” Judith explained.

That purchase in 1953 by their father, Louis Cohen, was his smartest business decision. 

Cohen grew up on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, reading to his blind father. He opened his store in 1925. Louis and his wife, Ruth, who also worked at Argosy, passed on their love of books to their three girls.

“Here we have a common goal,” Judith said. “If there’s any major decision, the three of us have to agree.”

The store isn’t as bustling as it used to be. The internet’s brought in online orders from around the world, but even among those browsing the bargain bins, foot traffic is down. Adina said they get about 100 offers a year. 

But the sisters have already planned for their succession. Judith’s son, Ben Lowry will make sure the bookstore won’t budge.

“We are protecting heritage,” Judith told CBS News. “[We are protecting] books. Books are endangered,” Adina agreed.

To Louis Cohen’s daughters, it’s not the real estate that has the most value -- it’s the collection that it houses.

  • Anthony Mason

    CBS News senior business and economics correspondent; Co-host, "CBS This Morning: Saturday"