Quest is an esoteric bookshop specializing in everything metaphysical. The store is a remnant of the 1970s spiritual counterculture, but also has roots that go all the way back to Helena Blavatsky, the 19th-century Russian occultist known as the Godmother of the New Age.
In the 1870s Blavatsky captivated New Yorkers with her tales of sojourns to Tibet, India and Egypt, where she sought a common thread through all the world’s religions. In 1875 she helped found the Theosophical Society to further this work. “What we desire to prove,” she wrote, “is that underlying every popular religion was the same ancient wisdom-doctrine.”
The New York branch of the Society moved to this block in 1952, and in 1977 expanded to open Quest. A framed portrait of Blavatsky hangs in the back. A hard-bound 14-volume set of her writing takes up a whole shelf, sitting alongside the work of more contemporary gurus.
On a recent fall evening, Sofia Bonilla, a 27-year-old regular from a nearby yoga studio, came for a book about spiritual energy. Incense burned near the cash register, a thin column of frankincense and myrrh circling toward the ceiling. Ms. Bonilla has far-ranging religious interests. She ticked them off on her fingers: Shamanism, Wicca, Hinduism. Quest stocks books about these subjects and a dozen others.