Not everyone visiting Las Vegas is obligated to go gambling. There are, in fact, other ways to spend one’s time—such as browsing in the Writer’s Block, a refined and whimsical downtown bookstore. The Writer’s Block, started in 2014, has been at its current 6th Street address since 2019. It houses more than 20,000 books—and hundreds of artificial birds that are up for “adoption.” We spoke with Drew Cohen, who owns the store with his husband, Scott Seeley. Seeley is the former head of 826NYC, the creative writing nonprofit founded by Dave Eggers, and he drew on his experience there to establish free creative writing workshops for children at the Writer’s Block. All the kids who take part in the workshops go home with copies of the books they helped create.
ZYZZYVA: What’s the coziest spot in your store for reading?
DREW COHEN: Not inside our store, but the corner table on our patio, next to our ornamental (non-functioning) 19th-century letterpress. Specifically in the spring and fall, when the Vegas weather is dry and temperate. At dusk, there is a tree near a wedding chapel that becomes swarmed by grackles. And if you’re lucky, you might get to see one of the open-air pedal-operated bars full of tipsy bachelorettes.
Z: What’s a little-known fact about your store?
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DC: Two things that come to mind are that we have bookworm dioramas hidden at the bottom of many of our bookcases, and that you can press a button to light them up. Additionally, our YA section is cluttered with strange-looking animal statues. These are actually painted taxidermy forms.
Z: How would you describe the smell of your shop?
DC: Coffee, ginger, flour, and cinnamon. When we bake in the coffee shop, the smell floods the store. And a tiny, animalic note from our pet rabbit (whose name is the Baron).
Z: Which new book would you recommend most to readers?
DC: Always, Katherine Heiny. She has a new story collection called Games and Rituals. Funny, but never mean. Easy to read, but not easy—if that makes sense? She’s got that deceptively simple “thing” going on that I’m fairly sure can’t be taught, and makes for the most pleasurable reading.
Z: Aside from your own, what’s your favorite bookstore?
DC: Argosy Book Store in Manhattan, the subject of a wonderful Janet Malcolm essay. Because I sell new books, I am personally more excited—as a consumer—by used books. Argosy is knowledgeable, sprawling, and old world. Family operated. And accessible to readers on a budget, despite stocking rare and antiquarian titles.