Rad indie bookstores awesome enough to make you book shop IRL
There’s something magical about a bookstore that no amount of free two-day shipping will ever be able to replace. Walking in and seeing all the beautiful new releases stacked high, scoping out the shelves of staff recommendations with their handwritten notes, curling up in a chair for what you intend to be five minutes to choose which books to buy, and walking out three hours later having bought (and started) them all.
The huge booksellers may be dwindling, but the true pieces of heaven for book lovers — the independent bookstores — are (fingers crossed) going strong. And the very best of these indie bookstores don’t just have books to offer. Many of them also have incredible architecture, famous author visits, and partnerships with delicious cafés — and they’re all well worth the trip. The other awesome thing is that these bookstores can be found all over the country. We’ve rounded up some of our favorites, hopefully there’s one close enough to you to work into your next book buying escapade.
The Last Bookstore in Los Angeles, California
The building of The Last Bookstore used to be a bank, and the store now fills the vaults with books. Buying and selling new and used books of all varieties, the store is most notable for the 100,000 books stacked in the “labyrinth” above the bookstore. This labyrinth is a series of piles filled with books that all sell for a dollar each. With a little digging, you’re sure to find what you’re looking for (and probably something you didn’t even know you were looking for).
Powell’s City of Books in Portland, Oregon
Powell’s is massive. So massive in fact that it’s the largest independent used and new bookstore in the world. The store takes up a full city block, and is complete with personalized staff suggestions, new and used editions side by side, and lots of readings and signings. Plus, their rare books room is basically a treasure chest.
McNally Jackson in New York, New York
New York has so many amazing bookstores that it can be pretty overwhelming, but McNally Jackson stands out. The store arranges their literature by nation, which lends itself to a pretty fascinating browsing experience. (Don’t worry, the staff will always help if you get lost!) The store is also home to a fantastic café, and an Espresso Book Machine that prints library-quality paperbacks in minutes.
If you’re in New York, also be sure to check out the Strand, Bookbook and Mercer Street Books & Records.
John K. King Used & Rare Books in Detroit, Michigan
Cool factor: 100. This bookstore was founded in 1965 in an old glove factory. Its more than one million books and 900 alphabetized categories are still housed in the same building. It has been featured on lists of the most beautiful bookstores in the U.S., and was named one of the World’s Coolest Bookstores by CNN.
Parnassus Books in Nashville, Tennessee
Parnassus Books, opened by author Ann Patchett (who we love), was named after the ancient Greek term for poetry. The store hosts lots of famous authors, and also celebrates Nashville’s culture with special events and a country music section. Yeehaw.
BookPeople in Austin, Texas
BookPeople prides itself on being a community and not just a store. Shelves are dotted with handwritten notes from staff, and guests since its 1970 founding have included presidents, rock stars, and novelists. It’s also a MUST-SEE store if you’re a crime novel fan — they have so many that in 2012 they launched MysteryPeople, a sub-store within the larger building.
Subterranean Books in St. Louis, Missouri
Subterranean Books stays true to its name in personally selecting every item in the store. As a result, its selection is full of niche novels, cult classics, and small press publications, which means there’s always something new to explore.
The Tattered Cover in Denver, Colorado
Tattered Cover has multiple locations in Denver, two of which are especially worth exploring. The first and largest is the downtown store near Union Station, occupying 20,000 square feet filled with books. The second store is in the remade historic Lowenstein Theatre. Go to the first for the selection, but visit the second just to step back and appreciate the atmosphere. Not too shabby.
City Lights Books in San Francisco, California
City Lights Books holds a place not just in the history of San Francisco, but in the history of literature at large. The store was once a meeting point for literary icons like Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg, it’s also an independent publisher, focusing in world literature, the arts and progressive politics.
Magers & Quinn in Minneapolis, Minnesota
Magers & Quinn opened in 1994, when the selection was so small that the books were laid out on tables instead of shelves. Now, it is one of the largest independent bookstores in the midwest, and the biggest in the city. Stop by for an eclectic mix of both current releases and harder to find rare books.
Maple Street Book Shop in New Orleans, Louisiana
Maple Street Book Shop celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2014. Since its founding, the bookstore has been a foundation of the literary community in New Orleans, hosting book signings, readings, and a weekly “Story Time with Miss Maureen” for kids. The creaky old house doesn’t look like much from outside, but it will feel like home to any book lover.
Blue Bicycle Books in Charleston, South Carolina
Blue Bicycle Books is focused on used, rare, and local books with over 50,000 volumes on anything from graphic design to military history and, of course, literary fiction. The store hosts a creative writing camp for kids every summer. It’s also been voted Charleston’s best used book store five years running.
Women & Children First in Chicago, Illinois
As its name suggests, Women & Children First is a bookstore with a unique focus. The store’s mission is for customers of every race, sex, and religion to be able to “shop as independently as they think.” The store focuses on feminism in everything from their selections to their book clubs and writing workshops. After raising $35,000 in four weeks on Indiegogo, they’re renovating the store to make their vibe as incredible as their content.
Elliott Bay Book Company in Seattle, Washington
The Elliot Bay Book Company celebrated its 40th year of independent book selling in 2014. Located in the home of Capitol Hill, over 150,000 titles sit on cedar shelves in the multi-level building. With a wide selection and bargain editions, in addition to author readings and events, the store is a can’t miss for any literature lover in Seattle.
Weller Book Works in Salt Lake City, Utah
Weller Book Works was founded over 80 years ago under the name Zion Bookstore. The store is located in historic Trolley Square, and the space itself is both surprising and delightful. Stop in for can’t miss new, used and rare books.
Reading Reptile in Kansas City, MO
The Reading Reptile is a children’s book store that has been open for over 25 years. The store considers itself a literary cultural center for families and teachers, as “part museum, part community center, part retailer, part agitator, um educator.” The store fully embraces its dedication to childhood, and the whole store looks like you’ve stepped into the doodles from a child’s notebook.
Politics and Prose in Washington, D.C.
Politics and Prose is exactly what one would imagine of an independent bookstore in D.C. The store focuses not just on books, but also on author events as a forum for discussing literature and ideas. The store hosts authors every night and often twice on weekend days, and also provides books for about 75 book groups that meet for discussion in the store. They even host classes on literature and psychology.
Prairie Lights in Iowa City, Iowa
Prairie Lights is located right next door to the famous Iowa Writer’s Workshop, so it’s no surprise that their selection of authors surpasses most others. Since its founding in 1978, the bookstore has spread to three and a half floors, including the space where local literary society including Robert Frost, Sherwood Anderson, Langston Hughes, Carl Sandburg, E.E. Cummings met throughout the 1930s. The store still hosts a reading series broadcast live of local, national, and international writers.
Brookline Booksmith in Boston, Massachussetts
Founded in 1961 with the slogan “dedicated to the fine art of browsing,” they have remained true to their mission. Brookline Booksmith has stuffed their first floor and used books cellar with a wide variety of genres, and even a crafts and trinkets section with items from handcrafted jewelry to journals.
Psst . . . even if you can’t make the trip to these stores in person, you can still support them through their fabulous online selections that ship all over the country!