Burly Coffee & Better Read Than Dead Books

Book worms and coffee lovers rejoice! Better Read Than Dead and Burly Coffee joined forces and recently opened a cafe that sells secondhand books—or a bookstore that sells coffee, depending on the way you look at it.

“Books and coffee go well together, because they’re both something to relax with. Just take some time for yourself and get into a book while enjoying a good coffee,” said Tom Colella, co-owner of Burly Coffee.

Dave Morse, co-owner of Better Read Than Dead, said something similar, but added that, especially in New York, both of them are also part of quite the opposite: the hectic commuter’s journey.

Courtesy of @burlycoffeebrooklyn.

“They’re both things that make you pause and enjoy, but they’re also both things you can do on the go,” he said. “By selling a book and a coffee, we’re giving you your morning commute activity and bringing a little comfort into your packed, rush-hour commute.”

In 2012, Morse and his business partner set up a secondhand book stall right outside of the Morgan Avenue L stop. They loved books and there are many economical advantages to this business model. You don’t need a business license for a stall like this and secondhand books are cheaper than new ones. But there was a more sentimental reason behind selling secondhand books, as well.

“I think we both like researching and learning about different editions and printing history,” said Morse. “There’s just something about a book that has survived time that’s got a certain something that a new book just doesn’t have.”

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Original location of Better Read Than Dead at 867 Broadway, courtesy of BRTD Facebook.

After two years, they decided that they wanted to be open year-round and moved into a little shop in an alleyway at 867 Broadway, right on the border of Bed-Stuy and Bushwick, where they’ve been ever since. When their shelves got too crammed and over-stuffed, they started considering expanding their business.

They weren’t the only ones with expansion on their mind. Somewhere else in Bed-Stuy, the team behind Burly Coffee had similar ideas. They were looking to grow their business and open up a second shop, preferably with another business. A mutual friend put coffee and books together and a new partnership was born.

The coffee shop-bookstore hybrid is a light, open space with six seats inside and a bench outside, where they envision people sitting down with a book while enjoying a coffee. It’s not a “laptop place,” said Colella. “It is more of a grab-n-go type of place.” They also offer doughnuts from Dough and pastries from Colson to go with your caffeine or literature.

New storefront in Bed-Stuy, courtesy of @erictherednyc.

The shop is located right in the middle of Bed-Stuy, which is a great spot, because there are no bookstores in the neighborhood according to Morse. “People love it,” he said. “They’ve told me that they’re happy that they finally have a bookstore in their neighborhood.”

Colella sees the fact that his new business partners focus on secondhand books instead of new ones as an asset. “I like that they curate the books. It’s not a pile of new airport books, it’s books that have withstood the test of time. And they’ve chosen these books to get a new life.”

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Finding these books has become second nature to Morse. Next to “normal” secondhand books, the store sells special first editions. By now, he knows a book with an interesting story when he sees one. “The Indiana Jones aspect of the job is definitely alluring,” Morse said.

Browse the collection yourself while enjoying a coffee. The cafe is located on 90 Kosciuszko St. in Bed-Stuy and open seven days a week from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Cover image courtesy of @alexbstamp.

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