The Independent Bookstores Every Booklover Should Visit in the U.S.
According to the American Booksellers Association, the number of independent bookstores in the United States has risen steadily since the financial crisis of 2009, up 27 percent by 2015.
There are plenty of incredible independent bookstores to choose from all over the country. In the interest of highlighting the underdogs, we’re intentionally skipping a few of the greats. Massive independent shops like The Strand in New York City, or Powell’s—the largest independent bookstore in the world—in Portland, are undoubtedly at the top of the heap. And those indie darlings like Square Books in Oxford, Mississippi, or author Ann Patchett’s Parnassus Books in Nashville, Tennessee, are must-stops for any booklovers in the area.
But chances are, if you're a bookworm, you’ve heard of these standouts before.
The 13 bookstores presented here are perhaps lesser known, but no less energizing to the bona fide booklover.
Malaprop’s Bookstore & Café, Asheville, North Carolina
“The Paris of the South” wouldn’t be “The Paris of the South” without a first-rate bookstore. Located in the heart of downtown Asheville, Malaprop’s Bookstore & Café stands at the vanguard of literary culture. Established in 1982 by Emoke B’Racz, a political exile from Hungary, the store publishes its own newsletter, produces its own podcast, and frequently hosts book signings, author readings, and book clubs. In Malaprops, one of the South’s most literary cities has found its reflection.
Hyde Brothers Booksellers, Fort Wayne, Indiana
Hyde Brothers Booksellers declared itself “Indiana’s Best Loved Bookstore,” and in this case, it just might be true. “When I die, I hope to go to bookstore heaven,” writes Nancy McCammon Hansen, a frequent patron. “I'm sure it will look like Hyde Bros.” Frequently voted “Reader’s Choice Best Bookstore in Fort Wayne” by the local newspaper, the shop boasts two floors and more than 175,000 titles in subjects ranging from Indiana history to sports and science fiction. This is the bookworm’s bookstore, from the selection to the smell.
Octavia Books, New Orleans, Louisiana
Voted “Best Locally Owned Bookstore in New Orleans” the last three years running by Gambit, the city’s alternative weekly, Octavia Books in uptown NOLA opened in 2000 and never looked back. Drawn into the store by the offbeat architecture – the building once housed a grocery and a stable for the Laurel Streetcar line – customers stay for the broad array of titles, the emphasis on local authors and of course, the in-house pooch, Pippin. “Octavia is the beating heart of the NOLA writing community,” says author Taylor Brown, who gave a reading from his first novel, “Fallen Land,” in the shop, “a must-visit for anyone who loves good people and books.”
Country Bookshelf, Bozeman, Montana
There’s plenty of reasons to love Bozeman: the breweries, the food, the plethora of outdoor recreational opportunities. But if their slogan, “the Most Livable Place,” is true, it’s due in no small part to Country Bookshelf, Montana’s largest independent bookstore. First opened in 1957, the store has changed hands and locations multiple times, but since 1986, it’s been back in the heart of downtown Bozeman, where it all began. The Treasure State has played home to some of the American West’s greatest authors— from Jim Harrison and Thomas McGuane to Wallace Stegner and Ivan Doig—and at Country Bookshelf, you’ll find them all (and much, much more). “The Country Bookshelf is a cozy gathering place where book lovers can browse the shelves for hours and get book advice from the helpful staff,” says Darcy Minter, a regular customer. “Readings, book clubs and kids activities make this independent book store a welcoming local hang out.”
Big Chicken Barn Books & Antiques, Ellsworth, Maine
Housed in a mammoth old chicken barn, Big Chicken Barn Books & Antiques is the largest bookstore in Maine, and easily the largest on our list. With two floors and over 22,000-square-feet of floor space, you’ll find yourself at the register whether you meant to or not. What began as a hobby in 1986 by Annegret and Michael Cukierski has since become a full-time business. They buy, sell and trade year-round, and in addition to more paperbacks than you can wrap your head around, they offer more than 150,000 rare and collectible books, magazines and other “paper antiques.” If you lose your partner in the store, just listen for the creak in the floorboards. Better yet: relax. Getting lost here is half the fun.
The Book Corner, Niagara Falls, New York
A local institution since 1927, The Book Corner relocated several times before landing on Main Street, where it’s now the largest independent bookstore in western New York. With so much space, who needs to specialize? New or used, fact or fiction, they’ve got it all. “The Book Corner is like a cockroach that could survive anything, even an apocalypse,” writes Ken Ilgunas, author of “Trespassing Across America.” “Its floors of books (old and new), and its enthusiastic staff make it a cubbyhole of culture and a bunker of hope for a city trying to get back on its feet.”
Singing Wind Bookshop, Benson, Arizona
If you think diving into a great novel is an escape, try finding your way to the Singing Wind Bookshop, four and half miles north of small-town Benson, Arizona, surrounded by the desert plains of San Pedro Valley. Opened more than 40 years ago by Winn Bundy, this bookstore—an old ranch house—is as remote as they come, and that’s half the fun. Specializing in books about and authors of the Southwest—including the great Edward Abbey, an early customer—Singing Wind Bookshop is truly one of a kind. "It's an honor to be a customer at her shop," Tucson author Bill Broyles told The Arizona Republic. "It's like being invited to a cave of hidden treasure, or the inner sanctum.”
The Midtown Scholar Bookstore, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania
In 2001, when Catherine Lawrence and husband Eric Papenfuse (now Mayor Papenfuse) opened The Midtown Scholar Bookstore, more than a few residents of Harrisburg’s Midtown neighborhood raised their eyebrows. "They were so down on the area that they could only conceive of us opening an adult book store,” Papenfuse told the local public radio station. But by 2009, the store had become a major catalyst for change in the neighborhood and had moved from an old post office into a series of interconnected buildings, one of them a 1920s-era cinema. Today, The Midtown Scholar has become a veritable marketplace of ideas, an exceptional bookstore with a coffee bar to boot. Come for the literature, stay for the conversation.
Montague Bookmill, Montague, Massachusetts
What’s better than a great used bookstore? A great used bookstore with a sense of humor. Housed in an 1842 gristmill on the banks of the Sawmill River, The Montague Bookmill advertises: “Books you don’t need in a place you can’t find.” The Montague Bookmill also features the Lady Killigrew Café and The Alvah Stone Restaurant and Bar, and regularly features live musical events. “Don’t look for our catalogue online; we’re not that bookstore,” their website states. “But if we can’t find the book you’re looking for, we’ll find you a better one you didn’t know you wanted.”
Dickson St. Bookshop, Fayetteville, Arkansas
Established in 1978 by owners Don Choffel and Charles O’Donnell, the Dickson St. Bookshop sells used books and specializes in rare and out-of-print titles. At 8,500 square feet, “It's far bigger than what you would imagine from the street,” writes one TripAdvisor review. “So many books your inner bookworm will burst into a butterfly.” So clear the afternoon—you don’t want to rush this one.
Rodgers Book Barn, Hillsdale, New York
Opened in 1972 by owner Maureen Rodgers, Rodgers Book Barn is “the kind of place you half expect to find a talking rabbit wearing a monocle and vest and reading by candlelight,” wrote Meredith Blake in The New Yorker. Located five miles northwest of Hillsdale, New York, hidden away down a dark, wooded road, Rodgers Book Barn offers approximately 50,000 used titles and better yet, most are just a few dollars or less. With floor-to-ceiling shelves and a cast iron woodstove, you’ll want to find that book (or three) and cozy up.
Little City Books, Hoboken, New Jersey
Opened in 2015 and one of the newest and smallest shops on our list, Little City Books in downtown Hoboken, a corner shop across the street from City Hall, often feels like something out of Richard Scarry's “Busytown USA,” says co-owners Kate Jacobs and Donna Garban. With a new annex for kids and a truly first-rate children’s book section, Little City Books is the perfect fit for Hoboken and its many young families. Nestled below a five-story brick apartment building, with stringing bright lights and huge shop windows, Little City Books won the Hoboken Chamber of Commerce’s award for Best New Business in 2015. A regular host of author readings, musical events, story hours and more, the shop has quickly become a postcard perfect community hub.
The Raven Book Store, Lawrence, Kansas
What’s a college town without a first-rate indie bookstore? Lucky for Lawrence, home of the University of Kansas, The Raven Book Store fits the bill. Specializing in literary fiction, mystery and regional books, you’ll also find a great selection of literary journals, postcards and more. “Right away, you get a sense of place from being there because they wear their region on their sleeve,” says Tina Casagrand, publisher of “The New Territory.” “It's a relatively tiny space, but they curate it well and keep it feeling really fresh.” With a resident cat and plenty of local authors stopping by to sign books or read a poem or two, the Raven screams local in all the best ways.