How ‘You’ve Got Mail’ made NYC a rom-com star

Twenty years ago, the Internet was an unexplored, foreign land, not an addiction or a matchmaking service. And the Big Apple was still filled with mom-and-pop shops — a landscape threatened by corporate giants like Fox & Sons Books.

OK, Fox books is fictional — a part of the world of “You’ve Got Mail,” rom-com queen Nora Ephron’s cinematic love letter to New York City that was released Dec. 18, 1998.
“New York was her soul and it was her place and her people,” Randy Sokol Sweeney, the film’s location manager tells The Post.

In the movie, Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan starred as Joe Fox and Kathleen Kelly, two New Yorkers who fell in love online during the earliest days of dial-up Internet, but unbeknownst to Kelly, they are actually business rivals. It was filmed primarily on Ephron’s Upper West Side — centering on Ryan’s tiny bookshop, which was set up at a real store on West 69th Street.

Ephron, a former New York Post reporter, wrote and directed “Mail,” which captured the quirk and charm of the neighborhood that she called home by filming at stalwarts such as Zabar’s, Gray’s Papaya and Cafe Lalo.

But Sweeney had a tough job. Because Ephron lived on the Upper West Side, she already knew exactly what she wanted and was more involved in the process than most directors.

“In some cases it was easier, but in a lot of times she would get her heart set on a place and they didn’t let us shoot there. That didn’t go over so well with her,” Sweeney says. “She was the only director I ever worked with who would call [a location]. She’d get on the phone and charm them. Her passion was so infectious. That’s how we got a lot of our locations.”

While today some of these storefronts and shops have long closed their doors, and Fox & Sons would now be under assault by Amazon, the New York of “You’ve Got Mail” endures.

Here are some of the more iconic locations that you can still visit.

The 91st Street Garden

91st Street at Riverside Park

The scene: Every romantic comedy needs a final scene where the star-crossed lovers finally come together and share a Hollywood kiss. This is the scene of the crime.

The back story: “It was spring in Riverside Park and that was the most beautiful time of year,” says Sweeney, who reveals that Ephron specifically scheduled this shoot around the small window when the park’s blooms arrived. “It was all about the blooms. And it was so beautiful.”

Cafe Lalo

201 W. 83rd St., between Broadway and Amsterdam Avenue

The scene: When Joe and Kathleen decide to finally meet in person, she says she’ll bring a red rose with a book so he can spot her. But as soon as he does, he realizes it’s his nemesis. A tense war of words ensues.

The back story: Sweeney, the location manager, actually lived above the cafe, which sold desserts and fancy coffee drinks before Starbucks was in our lexicon. “I was a regular there, but I didn’t know the owner and he was really challenging for me,” Sweeney says. “I had to really sweet talk him and work him for a long time.”

Fox & Sons Books (Barneys)

150 W. 17th St., at Seventh Avenue

Fox and Sons You've got mailBarney’s

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