“7 Amazing Bookstores in Philadelphia”
Written by Jaylynn Korrell
After you get your cheesesteak and take a picture with the love sign like a classic Philly tourist, you’ll need to get down to business and check out the awesome bookstores that the city of brotherly love has to offer. Fair warning, there are tons!
When creating this list, I was able to find over two dozen bookstores within the city limits. There are shops that have been around for decades and a few that just opened up. So I put on my walking shoes and went to each one, revisiting bookshops I’ve loved for years and acquainting myself with the ones I’ve never even heard of. And there were so so many amazing shops, but just like Kris Jenner with her children—I have my favorites. Whether it was their creative displays, gorgeous atmosphere, or wide variety of books, each of these stores felt so special that they needed to be shared.
And so here they are, in no particular order.
But before I go, I’ll add that 1 & 2 are within walking distance of each other and so are 3 & 4 and 5 & 6. You’re welcome.
1. Shakespeare & Co.
This bookstore is relatively new to Philly, but it has been a beloved part of New York City for decades. Located right in all the hustle and bustle of center city, it feels like it was created for the working book lover. There are ample places to read or work on your laptop in the cafe, or on the second floor that overlooks the store.
They also feature an Espresso Book Machine. Don’t worry, I had no clue what the meant either but during my visit an employee explained that it’s just an amazing machine that can print public domain books for you. And if you’re looking to self-publish your own book, look no further. You can do it right here.
*Note – The Shakespeare and Company bookstore in Paris is not affiliated with the US locations in Philly or NYC.
Address: 1632 Walnut Street, Philadelphia, PA 19103
2. Joseph Fox Bookshop
Walking onto the street that this bookstore is on felt like a relief from the craziness of center city. What first seems like a wrong turn down an alley, quickly turns into a much quieter island of a street and the treasure of it is Joseph Fox Bookshop. The shop is quaint, and packed precisely with so many books. We saw lots of small press books on display (including The Word for Woman is Wilderness!) while we were there and the staff was fun and knowledgeable. I watched an employee find a book a customer asked for in literally 2 seconds. It was impressive.
Address: 1724 Sansom St, Philadelphia, PA 19103
3. Penn Book Center
Don’t let its being right in University City fool you. This bookshop is for the community as well as the students and faculty of the area, and it’s completely independently owned. Their large window displays will draw you in and their massive collection of books will make you stay a while. Since 1962 they’ve been serving this area with their huge selection, and they show massive support to their local authors by hosting author readings and discussions regularly. In the end, it was an easy choice to include them.
Address: 130 S 34th St, Philadelphia, PA 19104
4. House of Our Own
Imagine: you have a favorite aunt who you’ve always admired, but you’ve never been allowed in her house. She reads on the beach, she reads in the streets, she’s a renaissance woman. One day, when you’re old enough, she invites you over. And low and behold, she’s filled every room with books! That is House of Our Own. Floor to ceiling books, books lining the stairs, books lining the hallway in a beautiful Victorian house nestled into UPENN’s campus. It Is a dream come true. Though filled to its brim, House of Our Own manages to keep a tidy and well-curated collection of books in its ownership, (which I have so much appreciation for). No trip to literary Philadelphia is complete without stopping here.
Address: 3920 Spruce Street, Phiadelphia, PA 19104
5. Head House Books
This picturesque bookshop in Queen Village is a must see in Philly. Established in 2005, Head House is cozy, like somewhere you’d want to go on a snowy day. Large carpets lay on the wooden floors, strings of lights hang from the bookshelf. It’s truly a dreamy place to be. Their staff is friendly, their layout is beautiful, and they have a wide variety of books to browse. They also hold a number of author events and readings for adults and kids.
Speaking of kids, I think this was my favorite children’s book set up out of all the bookstores. Located in the very back, this section felt like what a kid’s area of a bookstore should be. It wasn’t overrun by toys and knick knacks, but held enough color and gorgeous covers to grab a kid’s attention while also displaying books that were thoughtful and educational. When we were there they had a book called The Heart of a Boy (Workman Publishing, 2019) on display and it’s the coolest thing and so perfect for kids. If I had a kid, I’d bring it here and buy that book.
Address: 619 S. 2nd Street, Philadelphia, PA 19147
6. Brickbat Books
This place is neat. And not like, “wow that sure is a neat backpack, Sally!”, more like these books are meticulously displayed, and it looks amazing. Their shelving is probably the best I’ve seen of any bookstore, with square wooden shelves that all look big enough to hold vinyls, lined up from the floor to the ceiling. It just feels good to be in there. I found myself drawn to so many books I wouldn’t normally pick up, because they were featured in a cube of their own. The space feels open, not over-crowded and intentional.
Address: 709 S 4th St, Philadelphia, PA 19147
7. A Novel Idea
You’ll feel right at home at A Novel Idea. This community-minded space opened in December 2018, and it just pulls at my indie bookstore heart strings. I mean, they feature local authors and small presses right in the front! Like, as soon as you walk in, you get hit with small press books and it hurts so good.
From its small press displays to its regular events, it’s clear that A Novel Idea is passionate about creating a literary space for their community of readers and writers. Because of that and their heartwarming small-business story, I couldn’t help but get excited stepping into their space. They make it easy to join in on the fun with their author readings, book clubs, and their monthly open mic night that they conveniently host at a local bar, Lucky 13 pub. Ch-ch-check it out.
Address: 1726 E. Passyunk Avenue, Philadelphia, PA 19148
Extra: Farley’s Bookshop
If you’re visiting Philly for more than a day (or live nearby), I would also suggest making the trip to New Hope to visit Farley’s. The town is adorable, the main street is thriving, and this bookstore will make the whole trip worth it. It’s like it was created around the idea of promoting small press books. As you walk its aisles, displays are hung specifically to promote different small presses that they support.
Address: 44 S. Main Street, New Hope, PA 18938
Jaylynn Korrell is a nomadic writer currently based in Pennsylvania. She writes for Independent Book Review and for her travel blog Earth to Jay. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram @JaylynnKorrell.
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