September 13, 2021 // By Robin Raven
By Robin Raven
September 13, 2021
Photo courtesy of Albertine
Connecting authors with audiences and helping readers discover new books, independent bookstores contribute greatly to the literacy and culture of the United States. From improving literacy or helping get books to children in need, many of these shops are cultural hubs of their communities. The value of indie bookshops cannot be duplicated online, although many of them wisely started offering online events and book deliveries during the pandemic.
Here are 30 especially cool indie bookstores across the United States that may inspire readers to take some literary road trips in the near future.
Photo courtesy of The Haunted Book Shop
Located in the charming downtown area of Mobile, Alabama, The Haunted Book Shop is an indie bookstore with lots of character. It focuses on genre fiction and books on writing, but the shop is a haven for writers in another way as well. It has a Writer’s Room where local authors can schedule time to write in a cool environment with easy access to reference books.
The Haunted Book Shop hyper-categorizes its fiction so that it’s easy to find exactly what you’re looking for. Beyond books, new and regular customers delight in Mr. Bingley, the friendly resident cat who usually greets customers at the door. Don’t go looking for spooky ghosts here, though; its name comes from “The Haunted Book Shop” by Christopher Morley, which was the original owner’s favorite novel.
Photo courtesy of People Get Ready
People Get Ready calls itself a bookspace because it’s both an independent bookstore and a community reading room. It welcomes everyone in the community even if they aren’t able to buy any books. They also work with teachers and schools to support the diversification of classroom libraries, critical curriculum development and more.
Situated in New Haven, Connecticut, the bookstore prioritizes books that reflect the local community and features authors from groups that have been historically underrepresented in book publishing. You can find wonderful books from BIPOC authors, LGBTQIA authors, bilingual authors and poets. People Get Ready wants its neighbors to walk in and see themselves reflected in the books and stories they’ll find there.
Photo courtesy of Bart’s Books
Bart’s Books is like no other bookshop in the United States. It occupies a picturesque 1930’s cottage in Ojai, California, and its bookshelves expand onto the grounds surrounding the shop. The outdoor shelves were designed to resemble Parisian booksellers along the Seine. The books outside are shelved under shaded stalls, so it’s pleasant to browse their selection in most any weather.
The naturalistic setting embodies the love of nature that draws many people to the Ojai Valley, and Bart’s Books is proud of being the world’s biggest outdoor bookstore. It has a wide variety of books in its collection of over 130,000 new and used books, including rare, out-of-print volumes as well as popular paperback novels.
Photo courtesy of Women & Children First
Founded in 1979, Women & Children First was among the first feminist bookstores. This Chicago institution regularly hosts events with authors, showcasing over the years such luminaries as Maya Angelou, Gloria Steinem, Margaret Atwood and Hillary Clinton.
As its name suggests, Women & Children First has a social justice mission, and they take great care in centering underrepresented voices, including feminist, queer, trans and BIPOC authors. Throughout the store, you can explore categories that you may not see in other bookshops, such as “Young Adult Queer.”
Photo courtesy of BookWoman
Located in Austin, Texas on Tonkawa, Comanche and Apache land, BookWoman was founded 45 years ago and is still going strong. In addition to a wide variety of feminist books, the shop sells shirts and jewelry.
Photo courtesy of Little Shop of Stories
Little Shop of Stories is a beloved indie bookstore in historic Decatur Square in Decatur, Georgia. Specializing in finding the perfect books for children, they want every young reader who walks into the shop to see themselves reflected in the books on the shelves. Kids have even more opportunities to have fun, thanks to book-themed summer camps, a summer reading program and a book-of-the-month club.
The store hosts many events with children’s authors and illustrators, which have been virtual throughout the pandemic. Although Little Shop of Stories does specialize in books for children and teenagers, they also have a carefully curated selection of adult fiction and nonfiction.
Photo courtesy of Laura Steffan
Located between Preservation Hall and Jackson Square in the vibrant French Quarter of New Orleans, Louisiana, Faulkner House Books rightly refers to itself as a sanctuary for fine literature. The shop is located in the former home of William Faulkner, which is, of course, where it gets its name. Faulkner lived and wrote the first of his novels in this 1837 townhouse.
Founded in 1988, Faulkner House Books focuses on new and rare Southern literature, as well as classics. It also offers customized book subscriptions. Joanne, who is considered the shop’s book whisperer, will build a dossier of your interests after asking some initial questions. Every month afterwards, Joanne chooses three to five books for each subscriber.
Photo courtesy of RJ Julia Independent Booksellers
Located in the shoreline town of Madison, Connecticut, RJ Julia Independent Booksellers is known for its fantastic selection of books. It’s also notable for hosting incredible book launches and celebrity signings, and the shop lines its walls with photos of visiting authors and their autographs.
“Opening a bookstore is fueled by a sense of hope – hope of putting the right book in the right hand, hope that the community would consider our space a place of discovery, of renewal, of excitement. RJ Julia Booksellers, in its over 30 years of serving our community, has had that hope realized,” the bookstore’s founder and podcast host Roxanne Coady told us.
With a second floor dedicated entirely to children’s books, this inviting bookstore is a great place for families. Soon to be featured in Netflix’s upcoming adaptation of “The Noel Diary,” there never seems to be a dull moment at this indie bookshop.
Photo courtesy of The Mysterious Bookshop
Located on Warren Street in Tribeca, The Mysterious Bookshop is renowned as the world’s oldest mystery fiction specialty store and has been offering mysteries to New Yorkers and visitors since 1979.
The shop boasts an expansive collection of signed first editions of new releases in mystery, crime and suspense fiction. Book collectors can also find rare and collectible mysteries here, including first editions from Sue Grafton and Arthur Conan Doyle.
Also look out for the “Bibliomystery” series of mystery novellas that were commissioned by the store. They feature mysteries set in the world of books, and the paperbacks and limited edition hardcovers are only available at the Mysterious Bookshop.
Photo courtesy of Albertine
Reflecting the French government’s mission to further the intellectual exchange between France and America, Albertine is the only bookshop in New York City oriented entirely around books in French and English. Albertine features more than 14,000 contemporary and classic books from dozens of French-speaking countries.
The shop, located in the Payne Whitney mansion in Manhattan, is full of special touches. These include a sculpture of Cupid – a replica of the original by Michelangelo – at the center of its marble rotunda entrance. The original “Young Archer” statue used to be on display in the mansion’s lobby before it was discovered to be the work of the legendary Italian sculptor.
While shopping, be sure to look up! The hand-painted mural of constellations, stars and the Zodiac on the ceiling of the second floor is mesmerizing. Also, look for busts of well-known figures from French and French-American culture such as Voltaire, Benjamin Franklin and Descartes.
Photo courtesy of City Lights
As a vital part of the literary history of San Francisco, City Lights is a bookstore and historic landmark that has Legacy Business status. Travelers often come to the bookstore because of its place in literary history and the counterculture. It was founded by poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Peter D. Martin in 1953 and shortly thereafter began serving as a small publisher as well.
City Lights was once notable as the first all-paperback bookstore in the United States, but it now offers both hardcovers and paperbacks. You’ll find a wide variety of books on its shelves from both large publishers and small presses. It’s housed in a charming building that’s over 100 years old, with plenty of nooks and crannies that are just right for exploring and reading. City Lights encourages visitors to stay as long as they like and enjoy their books.
Photo courtesy of The King’s English Bookshop
Located in the 15th & 15th neighborhood of Salt Lake City, Utah, The King’s English Bookshop prides itself in matching books to readers. Spanning eight rooms in an old house, this bookstore has a large children’s room, and throughout the pandemic, they’ve hosted a virtual storytime nearly every day.
Photo courtesy of Malaprop’s Bookstore/Cafe
Situated in downtown Asheville, Malaprop’s Bookstore/Cafe has served the community since 1982. Emoke B’Racz, its founder, moved to the United States as a teenager from Soviet Hungary. It was important to B’Racz that this bookstore be “a place where poetry mattered and where a woman’s words were as important as a man’s.”
You’ll find a lot of focus on local and regional authors here, and you’re likely to find some unknown gems mixed in as you search for bestsellers.
Photo courtesy of Laguna Beach Books
Located in the Old Pottery Place in Laguna Beach, California, the aptly named Laguna Beach Books has been serving locals and visitors to the area since 2006. It’s a general-interest bookshop with a stellar collection of fiction, nonfiction, science, self-help, the arts and cooking. They also have a diverse selection of children’s books.
Laguna Beach Books is known for its knowledgeable staff members who are enthusiastic about conversing with customers about books. They’re also avid supporters of book clubs, whether you’re looking to start your own or want personalized recommendations for your club’s next reads.
Photo courtesy of Greedy Reads
Greedy Reads is an independent bookstore with two locations in Baltimore, Maryland: one at 320 West 29th Street in Remington and another at 1744 Aliceanna Street in Fells Point. Both locations have sidewalk sales every weekend.
Founded by Julia Fleischaker after nearly 20 years in the publishing industry, Greedy Reads features a wide variety of books that are carefully curated. Along with games and puzzles, both stores also offer select merchandise like tote bags and clever shirts that empower readers to show pride in their local bookstore.
Photo courtesy of Argosy Book Store
Founded in 1925, Argosy Book Store is an antiquarian bookshop in New York City that is now in its third generation of family ownership. All six floors are filled with old, rare and out-of-print books. Collectors can also find books that are autographed by a wide variety of famous figures.
Argosy Book Store specializes in first editions, art history, American history and the history of medicine and science. Customers enjoy the experience of walking off the bustling East 59th Street in midtown Manhattan and into the enchanting bookshop, feeling as if they’ve walked back in time.
Photo courtesy of Tom Lowenburg
Tom Lowenburg and Judith Lafitte founded Octavia Books more than 20 years ago. It has a warm, welcoming environment, and customers are encouraged to take their time browsing the shelves. This thriving bookshop in uptown New Orleans has a lot of local, loyal customers, and it’s a favorite with tourists as well. Octavia Books often hosts author events and launches in the shop.
The vast selection of books at Octavia Books is hand-picked and wide-ranging, including large local-interest sections. Staff members are well-informed book enthusiasts who are happy to help customers with personalized recommendations if they want them. You’ll also find gifts like locally printed greeting cards and jigsaw puzzles in the bookstore.
Photo courtesy of Russell Gearhart
Vroman’s Bookstore has been a vital part of the Pasadena community for over a hundred years. Founded in 1894, Vroman’s is a gathering place as well as a bookshop, and it’s known for its top-notch selection of books and gifts. The community-minded store has partnered with the community to donate well over $700,000 to local organizations through the Vroman’s Gives Back program.
As the oldest and biggest independent bookshop in Southern California, Vroman’s Bookstore has a rich history and a legacy of service. For example, Vroman’s donated and delivered books to Japanese-Americans who were interned in Southern California Camps during World War II. Nowadays, Vroman’s has an eye-catching Walk of Fame that features handprints of local and beloved authors such as Lisa See, Walter Mosley and Naomi Hirahara.
Photo courtesy of Blue Willow Bookshop
Situated in West Houston, the Blue Willow Bookshop is a charming indie bookstore with a lovely storefront. It was named after the china pattern to conjure up memories of gathering around for family dinners served on these dishes.
Half of the Blue Willow Bookshop is for children, while the other half of the store is for adults. They have a curated, diverse and interesting selection of books for babies, toddlers, children and teens. They also stock books for many local book clubs, and there’s a well-shopped book club table where you can peruse those popular volumes, too.
The knowledgeable owners and staff are also happy to offer suggestions and opinions to shoppers who want recommendations.
Photo courtesy of Mystery To Me
Madison, Wisconsin’s Mystery to Me was founded after owner Joanne Berg purchased the inventory of a mystery-focused bookshop that was going out of business. Over the years, it has expanded into a general bookstore, but the shop’s carefully curated selection of mystery books is still one of the first places many visitors browse.
The community-focused store brings people together around their shared love of books. They also host a variety of author events to bring customers the opportunity to connect with their favorite writers.
Photo courtesy of Fact & Fiction
Located in downtown Missoula, Montana, Fact & Fiction has specialized in the best stories that the world has to offer since 1986. Although it does offer a big selection of mainstream new releases and bestsellers from around the country and beyond, Fact & Fiction focuses on Montana authors and their stories, and it’s proud of its well-curated selection of books by Indigenous writers.
This bookstore is also committed to featuring books from independent and small presses from all around the world. For this reason, many customers find books they’d never heard about when they visit Fact & Fiction, and the friendly, well-informed staff are happy to offer recommendations.
Photo courtesy of Anatasia Pottinger
Accomplished novelist Alex George founded Skylark Bookshop in 2018 with business partner and store manager Carrie Koepke. Because Columbia, Missouri embraced the Unbound Book Festival – which George founded and runs – in such a wholehearted way, he realized that the bookshop would be well-received too.
Customers love the one-on-one experience of the Skylark Reading Spa. Simply answer questions about reading habits and preferences, and a knowledgeable team member will carefully choose a selection of books based on those likes and dislikes.
Photo courtesy of Nicole Yasinsky
After a beloved, long-time local bookstore shut its doors in 2017, Memphians rallied, resulting in the launch of Novel. This community-focused bookstore is locally owned and operated, and they are very engaged and involved with Memphis residents and visitors.
Novel has a wide variety of books for all ages, and a restaurant within the bookshop serves literary-themed cocktails. Novel also hosts author events and storytimes for children. In addition to its many books, the shop sells specially chosen games, toys and other gifts.
Photo courtesy of Bookworks – Albuquerque
Situated in Albuquerque’s North Valley, Bookworks is a locally owned, independent bookstore. They are very supportive of the community and strongly committed to bringing books and readers together in an enjoyable way. Bookworks hosts over 400 author events each year, and they showcase both nationally known authors and independently published local writers.
As a literary meeting place since it first opened its doors in 1984, Bookworks carries a wide range of fiction and non-fiction books. The children’s book section is large and full of a great mix of new and classic volumes for kids of all ages. They also have a section for local authors, as well as carrying books on New Mexico and Southwest travel. Photography, art books and young adults books also line the shelves. The bookstore additionally offers magazines, newspapers and gifts.
Photo courtesy of Tina Gohr
Located in downtown Sturgeon Bay in picturesque Door County, Wisconsin, Novel Bay Booksellers is a vibrant bookshop that’s an integral part of the community. Founded by John Maggitti and Liz Welter in 2018, Novel Bay welcomes visitors and locals alike to come to the shop, sit down and read a great book. Families often come and sit down on the couch in the children’s section for an in-store storytime experience.
With an eclectic mix of books, the owners and staff are happy to help readers find a new author or even an unfamiliar genre that they may enjoy. They handpick nearly all the books that are carried in the shop. Along with such impressively well-stocked sections as science, history, politics, suspense, thrillers, cooking and travel, they also carry an extensive selection of Door County authors, as well as books written about the region, culture and history.
Photo courtesy of Mark Tiedermann / Left Bank Books
Left Bank Books is the largest and oldest independently-owned bookshop in St. Louis. Located in the city’s historic Central West End neighborhood, they serve the community and prioritize being a safe, welcoming space for all residents and visitors, especially people of color, LGBTQIA+ and other marginalized groups.
This bookshop carries a large selection of new and used books, and they also sell magazines, gifts, toys and games. They also operate the River City Readers program, which gives high-quality, diverse books to school children in St. Louis public schools, encouraging a love of reading and increasing literacy. The program arranges author visits with schools as well.
Photo courtesy of A Novel Idea Bookstore
A Novel Idea Bookstore started in 1991 as a passion project of college students Cinnamon Dokken and Bryan Peterson, who opened the bookshop with a stock of only 2,000 books in the unheated basement of a warehouse. It’s grown quite a lot since then, and today it is a thriving, two-story bookstore in downtown Lincoln, Nebraska.
Some of the store’s tall bookshelves have tops that are carved to resemble leaves, giving the shop the feel of an enchanted forest of books. Resident shop cats Eddy and Charlie are the most popular staffers, and they often warmly greet visitors. Charlie even had his own small book that was sold to benefit the local Head Start Early Education Program.
Photo courtesy of Parnassus
Situated in the heart of Nashville, Tennessee, Parnassus Books was founded in 2011 by renowned author Ann Patchett and her business partner Karen Hayes. Mount Parnassus was a haven for learning, music and literature in Greek mythology, so it’s fitting that Parnassus Books shares this legendary name. It strives to serve those who love the written word, and Nashville’s nickname is the “Athens of the South,” after all.
Describing itself as “an independent bookstore for independent people,” Parnassus Books complements and contributes to the special cultural fabric of the city. A general bookstore with a large selection of literary fiction, they stock many different subjects and genres, including history, cookbooks, non-fiction, science fiction, romance and mystery. Parnassus Books also has a terrific children’s section.
Photo courtesy of Prairie Lights
Founded in May 1978 by Jim Harris, Prairie Lights is a large, welcoming independent bookstore that’s now considered an Iowa City landmark. Although it started out in a small space, it now spans three and a half floors. Its thriving, beloved children’s section welcomes families who often explore and read together there. Family-friendly events and readings are often held at the shop as well.
Among the illustrious authors who have participated in events at Prairie Lights are Annie Proulx and Gloria Steinem. President Obama also made headlines when he visited the bookstore and bought some children’s books.
Photo courtesy of Page & Palette
Page & Palette is a striking, memorable bookshop in Fairhope, an idyllic community on the eastern shoreline of Mobile Bay in Alabama. It has been an independent, family-owned bookshop for three generations and has been considered a local landmark for decades. The Book Cellar – an event venue and bar with a literary twist – is located within the bookstore. They host events for both nationally known authors and local up-and-comers.
In addition to a vast variety of excellent new and used books, Page & Palette has other fun merchandise throughout the store. Kids will delight in stuffed animals and toys in addition to stellar children’s books. They also sell greeting cards, journals and other gifts.
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September 13, 2021 // By Robin Raven