Real Simple
March 28, 2017 2:35 pm

When you think of a great local bookstore, you probably single it out for its conscientious curation, enthralling events, and splendid staff. But what makes a bookstore go from great to one of the best in America? We partnered with Yelp to explore the best independent bookstores our country has to offer. There are no chains on this list. Using an algorithm that looks at the number of reviews and star rating for each business, Yelp singled out the top bookseller in each state.

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We found that the unique touches that make a bookstore the best are just as diverse as America itself. There is a bookshop for just about every age and taste: some are children-focused stores with story time galore, like Minnesota’s Wild Rumpus. Others lean towards adult-only fare: Books and booze is becoming quite a trend, just take Maine’s Elements: Books Coffee Beer and Denver’s BookBar for example. Some stores are particularly interactive. Little Shop of Stories in Georgia has a room that brings Goodnight, Moon to life and The Writer’s Block in Las Vegas is home to an artificial bird sanctuary complete with fake birds just waiting to be adopted! Others have no gimmicks at all—just a passionate staff filled with avid, adventurous readers that just want to put the right read in their customer’s hand.

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Of course, we couldn’t be in touch with bookstore employees without asking for a list of recommendations. Though the picks run the gamut (local history, critically acclaimed novels, children’s books, text books), many stores recommended local authors. Take a peek—maybe you’ll even discover your new favorite author.


Ralph Daily/ Flickr

Church Street Coffee and Books (Birmingham, Alabama)

Many of’s employees have formerly worked in Time Inc.’s Birmingham office—and all of them can’t stop raving about Church Street Coffee and Books, Yelp’s pick for the best bookstore in Alabama. Housed in a former Starbucks in Birmingham’s Crestline Village, the store offers visitors a great selection of books to choose from (think everything from new releases to children’s books to cookbooks). It’s also spacious—there are enough seats to spend the day studying upstairs, or grabbing coffee with friends in the main room—and when the weather’s nice, there’s even a sunny patio to sit with your book and coffee. But the one thing you cannot miss at Church Street is the “break-up cookie.” Our editors call the store’s infamous treat the best chocolate chip cookie you’ll ever eat.


Pat Cobb/ Flickr

Title Wave Books (Anchorage, Alaska)

Title Wave Books always has the books customers want, because they supply them themselves. The grand majority of this store’s inventory (apart from Alaskan travel guides and maps) are used and come from from trade-ins from the customers themselves. That means that not only do they have a great variety of interesting books, but they also have a large quantity of books for each interest—no matter how niche. When customers come in asking for an Alaska-focused read, Angela Libal, store manager, says they are so surprised and delighted to find that they have not just a shelf of reads, but a whole section devoted to Alaskan cooking, history, mining, dog sledding, and more.

Book recommendation: The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey. This Alaska-set adaptation of a classic Nordic fairy tale is a perennial bestseller at the store. “Its rich details create a deeply interesting narrative. It has enduring staying power for sure.” – Angela Libal, store manager.


Changing Hands Bookstore/ Flickr

Changing Hands Bookstore (Tempe, Arizona)

Since it was founded in 1974, this store has become a hallmark of the Arizona literary community. And they don’t call it Changing Hands for nothing—a bustling trade-in counter supports their wonderful, varied selection. Many Yelp reviewers praise the store not only for its great selection of new and used books, but also for its unique knick-knacks, toys, gag gifts, and incredible sales. Apart from the books, many visitors flock to the vast space for readings and Q&As—the store hosts more than 400 events each year. And while the Tempe location has been open for 40-plus years, it’s not going anywhere for the next generation. The store recently opened a second location serving up books and booze in uptown Phoenix—its First Draft Book Bar serves wine, beer, and coffee to browsers.

Book Recommendation: Green Island by Shawna Yang Ryan. “Without sacrificing anything of craft or literary credibility, it’s got everything going for it—epic historical setting, multi-generational sweep, insight after lacerating insight, gorgeous sentences that will please lit snobs but won’t alienate more casual readers, and plot, plot, plot.” – Brandon Stout, director of marketing


Paula Fisher/ Flickr

Dickson Street Bookshop (Fayetteville, Arkansas)

Co-owners Don Choffel and Charles O’Donnell opened the deceptively large Dickson Street Bookshop in 1978. It’s held onto its original bookish charm, even after nearly 40 years. One Yelp Reviewer described walking into the store like “walking *into* a giant book.” Its narrow aisles and long hallways are filled with a massive selection of used and out-of-print books. You’re sure to find at least something to bring home.

Book recommendation: Looking to brush up on your local history? Dickson Street Bookshop houses a state-centric section in the store. The co-owners recommend starting with Vance Randolph’s books on Arkansas folklore or the novels of Fayetteville writer Donald Harington.


Century Books (Pasadena, Calif.)

Situated in Pasadena’s historic Green Street Village, Century Books houses an eclectic selection of used fiction and nonfiction books. The bookshop also houses a small art gallery that features works by local artists. They host events, lectures, and performances by musicians, authors, and other notable figures, too.

Book recommendation: Feynman’s Rainbow by Leonard Mlodinow. “A wonderful memoir. The author recollects his time and the challenges he faced at Caltech, and his meeting with the larger-than-life physicist, Richard Feynman, who also became his mentor.” – Judith Marosvolgyi, co-owner


Eater Denver/ Flickr

BookBar (Denver, Colorado)

If you love wine, reading, and relaxing, BookBar is the place for you. Though it started out as a bookstore and wine bar, it has since expanded to an incredible experience. In 2015, they added an outdoor patio with a fire pit, sidewalk, outdoor lounge seating, a two-person hammock, a garden space (the herbs and vegetables are featured in the dishes served at the café), and an upstairs book-themed bed and breakfast—BookBed. They’ve recently acquired a bookmobile, and are planning off-site events like book fairs, markets, and on-the-road author events.

Book recommendation: Wonder by R.J. Palacio. “This children’s book delivers a powerful message of acceptance and perseverance to all ages.” – Nicole Sullivan, owner and operator


Slack12/ Flickr

R.J. Julia Booksellers (Madison, Connecticut)

To the staff of R.J. Julia Booksellers, the place isn’t just a bookstore. Instead, it’s a place of discovery. Words matter, writer meets reader, and the selection of books creates a dynamic, welcoming atmosphere. There are many spots to have an enlightening conversation with a fellow book lover, and, of course, just as many to relish a great book during a quiet moment to yourself. Not sure what to pick up? Ask any one of the knowledgeable staff members—their opinionated, varied picks and fierce commitment will make sure you end up with the right book in hand.

Book Recommendation: The Photograph by Penelope Lively. “Not only is it a riveting read, but it’s also a great reminder of how little we know about each other–even our spouses—and how we keep secrets from each other.”— Roxanne Coady, owner


MadKnits/ Flickr

Browseabout Books (Rehoboth Beach, Delaware)

This customer-oriented bookstore is situated only a little more than a block away from the Rehoboth Beach boardwalk. Browseabout Books is filled not only with a meticulously curated selection of reads, but also an eclectic mix of hand-picked toys, stationary, and gifts. Not sure which book you should bring to the beach? Their league of passionate booksellers make sure both locals and tourists alike head to the shore with the right book in hand.

Book recommendation: All Our Wrong Todays, by Elan Mastai. Susan Kehoe, general manager of Browseabout, calls this new twist on the time-travel novel “a smart, fresh, first novel.”


annehathen/ Flickr

Tate’s Comics (Lauderhill, Florida)

Tate’s Comics has been family-owned and operated since it opened in 1993. At more than 10,000 square feet, it has books, toys, and unique finds for everyone. Though it’s definitely a must-see for any lover of comic books or kitsch, there’s sure to be something for everyone in its eclectic mix of pop culture, art, history, and, of course, comic books.

Book recommendation: Good Night, Batcave by Dave Croatto, “This parody of the timeless children’s classic Goodnight Moon follows the same illustration style as the original, but featuring the Batman bad guys that everyone knows and loves in addition to the Batman’s bedtime routine in the bat cave. Your little superhero lover will cherish reading it at bedtime!” – Amanda Magnetta-Ottati, co-owner


Little Shop of Stories (Decatur, Georgia)

If you’ve ever wanted to visit the books you’ve read as a child, Little Shop of Stories is the place for you. This magical community bookstore transports guests both young and young at heart into scenes from their favorite childhood books: they have a life-sized Goodnight, Moon room as well as a replica Platform 9 ¾ from Harry Potter. Smaller, enchanting touches, like a penny-paved road, also abound throughout the store.

Book recommendation: The Rooster Who Would Not Be Quiet! by Carmen Arga Deedy. “We love Carmen in no small part because she’s a hometown author but most of all because she’s a terrific storyteller. The Rooster is her latest, and it showcases what makes her a fantastic writer. We regularly read it at story times, teachers through high school have used it to stimulate classroom discussion, and adults will share it for their love of parable and the recognition of a newly minted classic.” – Madison Hatfield, bookseller

Read the rest here.

This article originally appeared in RealSimple.