“IBR Recommends: Our Favorite Indie Bookstores in the World”
Organized by Joe Walters
To celebrate #IndieBookstoreDay, our team here at IBR answered one impossible question: “What is your favorite indie bookstore?”
I think it’s safe to say that we are bookstore superfans over here at IBR. We’ve been writing blog posts about our favorites ever since we started this thing in April 2018, and there’s a good reason behind that.
And it’s not just that they are awesome.
The book world wouldn’t be the same without its indies. Passionate people put in their time and money to bring together the community and get people reading in ways that retail stores just can’t do. The curation is specific. The displays are unique. The atmosphere is almost a personality all on its own. We can’t do this without them.
But the only way these stores can stay around is if they get support from the people who love them. We’ve got a passionate group of readers over here on our team, and for #independentbookstoreday, we decided to collaborate and give you all an idea of which shops you can support now or in the future.
Without further ado, here is Independent Book Review’s favorite indie bookstores in the world!
Address: 9 West Street, Boston, MA 02111
Recommended by Joe Walters
This question is undoubtedly a mean one. And that’s coming from me, the guy who asked it.
Jaylynn and I are road-trip fanatics. And each time we go to a new place, heading to the local bookstore is usually one of the first things on our to-do list. We’ve gone to shops all across the country from the Mid-Atlantic to New England to the Midwest to the Pacific Northwest to the Southwest and all sorts of other random places. We get bored and drive a lot. Sue me. (Just kidding, please don’t).
But no shop has hit me in quite the same way that Brattle Book Shop in Boston did. The picture above is of young me (note the not-yet-gray hair) on our first New England road trip. I was 22 and had big dreams of writing and reading my way to a literary life.
So where else could I have started than devouring all the classic authors I could get my hands on?
And then I found Brattle Book Shop. It was love at first browse. I spent entirely too long strolling through the outdoor section of discounted book stacks, found myself some odd additions to my shelf like an illustrated Invisible Man by HG Wells and Ray Bradbury’s children’s book Switch on the Night. There’s a really lovely mural overlooking this outdoor section too, so while I was there, I felt immersed in bookish love.
As you might have guessed, they have books inside their shop as well. But as you might not have guessed—it’s a three-story building, and there are books on books on books waiting for you in there.
Visiting Brattle is a promise of getting lost when you’re in Boston. What else could a reader ask for?
Address: 225 Smith Street, Brooklyn, NY 11231
Recommended by Jaylynn Korrell
We’ve spent years exploring new bookstores, but not many have left me feeling quite as excited as I did after my visit to Books Are Magic in Brooklyn, NY.
Located in the Cobble Hill area of Brooklyn, Books Are Magic is everything I want out of an indie bookshop. It sits on a street corner with a big bright mural on its side that’s perfect to take bookish pictures in front of. From the outside, you’d think it’s quite small, but once you enter, the place really opens up and becomes lengthy with high ceilings lined with new releases and old classics alike. It’s a colorful and fun store to explore, very kid friendly, and features a really cool gumball machine filled with poems.
Books Are Magic takes pride in having a jam-packed event schedule, too. Tons of authors whose books are in the store have come to read during the short 4 years since the store opened on 2017. Though COVID has changed their set up a bit, they still do many virtual events through Zoom that anyone can register to attend.
Another cool fact about this bookstore is that it’s owned by one of my favorite authors, Emma Straub. The first book I read of hers, Modern Lovers, took place in Brooklyn, and quickly made me a fan. You can find her books there, which are usually signed, if you’re looking to super-support this awesome bookstore.
Address: 10 Blacklands Terrace, Chelsea, London SW3 2SR
Recommended by Rosa Kumar
John Sandoe Books Ltd., sitting in its beautiful eighteenth century home and filled with over 30,000 lovingly stacked books, is a beloved cornerstone to literary London that can’t be imitated anywhere else.
John Sandoe opened its doors in 1957 and has since expanded into three adjoining shops, creating a 3-story haven for bibliophiles with books crammed everywhere there is a gap that can fit them. There are a few strategically placed chairs and stools for the browser that maybe spent a few hours too long walking from genre to genre, and the neighboring coffee shops and pubs will welcome you with your paper sachet filled with new reads after the store closes its doors anyway.
The booksellers at John Sandoe are wonderful people; their dedication to their customers goes beyond the standard bookseller call of duty. Their unique brand of service offerings include hunting down rare books and out-of-print editions, creating custom-themed book bundles for you to gift (or keep!), maintaining public and private libraries, and sending out quarterly catalogues and mail order subscription services.
John Sandoe is a labyrinth of affordable books despite its location in the expensive retail neighborhood of Chelsea. They host book launches, author-speaking events, and podcasts, and offer a gentle and welcome escape from the busy streets of London.
Address: 402 W Main Ave, Spokane, WA 99201
Recommended by Joseph Haeger
I was in high school when a friend invited me to my first reading. I didn’t know anything about the author except that he was the guy who wrote Fight Club—“the book, not the movie.” We arrived in downtown Spokane and climbed the stairs to the third floor where there was only standing room left.
I stood in the back and listened to Chuck Palahniuk read his story “Guts.” This was eye opening because I didn’t realize people wrote about this kind of stuff, and I was hooked. This is the moment that put me on the road to being a reader and a writer. And none of this would’ve happened if Auntie’s Bookstore wasn’t such a driving force in our community.
I love Auntie’s because they love books as much as I do. They’re as fun and ridiculous as every person that walks through their doors and seem always ready to make someone’s day. Case in point: they’ve let me do some goofy things for Independent Bookstore Day (like drawing terrible pictures of animals or wearing Stephen King masks and taking photos with people).
For over forty years, they’ve continually met writers and readers where they are, cultivating a one-of-a-kind bookish culture in our town. This level of care does not go unnoticed, and I can’t wait to see what the next forty years bring.
Address: 4465 I-55 STE 202, Jackson, MS 39206
Recommended by Alexandria Ducksworth
Although I live and occasionally explore indie bookstores in Georgia, my top favorite bookstore is in Jackson, Mississippi. The name: Lemuria Books.
I stumbled upon Lemuria Books by accident. It all started when I researched information about a legendary continent called Lemuria, located in the Pacific Ocean. Think of it as Atlantis, but far older. Legend says a great earthquake caused the land to fall into the sea. Some Pacific Islands like Hawaii are said to be remnants of the mythical land.
That’s when Lemuria Books popped up on my search. I realized Lemuria Books was in the same city where some of my relatives lived, and now, whenever I visit them, I make sure to visit the bookstore too.
If you’ve ever been to New York City’s The Strand, Lemuria Books captures its aesthetic and feel, except smaller. It has all sorts of books nestled in its bookshelves, including those in my favorite genres like New Age and esoteric. I was even able to find a copy of T. Lobsang Rampa’s Third Eye even though it’s usually so difficult to find his books.
Indie bookstores carry different and unique vibes from store to store. I am so thankful for this one. Lemuria is one of a kind, and I’d love to see it remain in business for decades to come.
Address: 1302 N 3rd St, Harrisburg, PA 17102
Recommended by Nathaniel Drenner
First a movie theater, then a department store—now a bookstore. Midtown Scholar in Harrisburg, Pa. occupies a cavernous, historic building absolutely brimming with reading material. It has become a book lover’s ultimate destination.
A well-curated selection of new books greets visitors upon entering, next to a café counter. Their new selection alone would be worth the trip. But the stacks keep going. It wasn’t until my fourth or fifth visit that I truly had a sense of the labyrinthine extent of the structure. There are sections for used books of all kinds, not to mention rooms for children’s books, rare books, and art prints. My favorite spot to read or work is at a table on the walkway to the upper gallery, with a dramatic view of the floor below.
That main floor is perfect for events—originally a movie theater, after all—and the Scholar has hosted authors both nationally-known and local. Those events have moved online due to the pandemic, but they show no signs of stopping.
The physical store is closed right now, but there are sidewalk and online sales, plus the digital author events. According to the website, the building is planning on re-opening this summer, and it will be one of my first stops on the return to a more normal world.
Address: Calle 71 #10-47, Bogotá, Colombia
Recommended by Tucker Lieberman
Books or sunshine? Always a tough choice! Fortunately, Wilborada 1047 in Bogotá, Colombia combines my two favorite things.
Yolanda Auza opened this bookstore in 2014 in a timber-framed brick house, originally built in 1943, that was remodeled by the architect Alejandro Henríquez to let in more sunlight. Hanging on the wall are portraits of famous authors sketched by Henríquez. The portrait of Gabriel García Márquez, labeled simply “Gabo,” is embellished with yellow butterflies.
Because of its street address, 10-47, the bookstore was named after Wiborada, the patron saint of booksellers. She was canonized in 1047; the bookstore chose to use a historical misspelling of her name. The store opens daily at 10:47. There’s a room with armchairs and coffee service from Café Cultor. When you’re not enjoying a cup, masks are required, at least this year.
Most books are in Spanish, including many Colombian authors like Carolina Sanín, Pilar Quintana, Héctor Abad Faciolince, Juan Gabriel Vázquez, and Laura Restrepo. There are a few German, French, and Italian books as well as English-language novels in the entryway by authors like Margaret Atwood, Ken Follett, Stephen King, George R. R. Martin, and Anne Rice. The bookstore has an online ordering system and ships within Colombia, and for those who find themselves in the area, it offers a really great book-browsing experience.
Address: 307 South Main Street, St. Charles, MO 63301
Recommended by Kathy L. Brown
Book lovers flock to Main Street Books for its colonial charm and the amazing support it offers local authors—it’s truly a friendly neighbor.
St. Charles’s Main Street Books is nestled on a cobblestone street in the historic old town section, a few blocks above the Missouri River. Originally constructed in 1821, its building is typical of the area’s river town style. It was rebuilt in 1955 after a fire destroyed the interior. The façade evokes its colonial days with red brick and wrought-iron embellishments.
The shop provides two stories of books, gift items, and toys to the many tourists as well as neighborhood residents who frequent the shop. Main Street is a great place to pick up history and guide books to better enjoy the region as well as current best sellers and classics. Throughout the pandemic, Main Street Books provided fresh reading material by post and pick-up through its well-designed website and order placement interface.
The bookshop supports local and independent writers, hosting book launches and stocking their works. The St. Louis Writers Guild and other writing groups find Main Street Books a welcoming presence in the area’s literary community.
Address: Ivy Exchange, Parnell St, Dublin 1, D01 P8C2, Ireland
Recommended by Sinead Carey
I know something that all book lovers can agree on: Not much beats the smell of a book, old or new. That is why I must start with Chapters on Parnell Street.
Chapters, Ireland’s largest independent bookshop, is spread over two expansive floors, and the comforting aroma of books hits you immediately when you walk in.
Located on Parnell Street, a short walk from O’Connell Street, this store can satisfy all your needs from rare-edition classics to fly-off-the-shelf debuts. If you are looking for something in particular, there’s a pretty great chance they can stock it.
The best part?
The upstairs caters solely to second-hand books that are sold at discount prices, and the friendly staff is always quick to advise if you can get the book you desire upstairs at a cheaper rate.
Address: 4014 N Goldwater Blvd, Scottsdale, AZ 85251
Recommended by R. Read
Being of a certain age, I may have frequented more indie bookstores than some readers are in years of age.
And by far, the Poisoned Pen Bookstore in Scottsdale, Arizona outshines, outperforms, and eclipses all others for me, especially with their literary events and author collaborations!
Owner Barbara Peters makes it look perfectly natural to pull up a chair alongside Harlan Coben, Lee Child, Diana Gabaldon; just to name a few. Clive Cussler, a long time Arizona resident, made the Poisoned Pen a trusted source for his autographed books, and my personal favorite, Linwood Barclay of Toronto, Canada, once accepted a plate of homemade cookies from me during a reading/signing–solely because he trusts Barbara!
Cozy in size, the store allows in-person engagements (pre- and post-COVID…they’ve done amazing at live streaming during the pandemic). Adorning walls above the stacks, the way crown molding might trim a ceiling, PPB has autographed photos of practically every famous author imaginable, along with the number of times/books they’ve presented at this location in Old Town Scottsdale’s Art District. If you love autographed first editions or imports, this shop is a must stop if you’re ever in the greater Phoenix area.
Visit their website to view past events, support indie, and get an autographed book by your favorite author–it doesn’t get any better than that in my book!
Address: 695 E Colorado Blvd, Pasadena, CA 91101
Recommended by Joshua Ryan Bligh
Founded before the turn of the 20th century, Vroman’s is undeniably a fixture in Pasadena, CA and one of the main reasons why when I spend time in the US, I invariably stay only a few blocks away from this bookstore.
Though far from sprawling, Vroman’s packs its shelves with curated care, making the most of its space to provide a selection both eclectic and complete. Neat, tidy, and tasteful, Vroman’s exudes a sleek contemporary aesthetic while maintaining the feel of a slower time, complete with curbside magazine and newsstand.
I’ve found books along Vroman’s shelves (such as Ozamu Dazai’s No Longer Human) that I couldn’t spot anywhere else, even in the three-story colossus of B&N the next city over. And when in a pinch, they’ve specially ordered hard-to-find texts (like an English translation of Yuri Goldstein’s Hedgehog in the Fog).
Vroman’s might occupy a large space, but it’s still an indie store, its size standing up as proof that readers still buy locally (and voraciously), which continues to fill me with a warm, cozy feeling as I walk home with a lighter bank account and the weight of a half-dozen new books in my arms.
There you have it! Thanks for checking out our favorite bookstores in the world. What’s your choice? Let us know in the comments!
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