My favorite indie bookstores.

My favorite indie bookstores.

Coming this Saturday: a national holiday celebrating books, readers, and indie bookstores. (It’s about time, right?)

The first National Independent Bookstore Day takes place on Saturday, May 2. (California had its own Bookstore Day last year, modeled on the hugely successful Independent Record Store Day, and the event was such a hit booksellers are taking it nationwide this year.

Local bookstores will be (more) festive and (more) fun for the event, and they’ll be offering a limited selection of unique literary items for one day and one day only, made just for the occasion by writers and artisans.

I love a good independent bookstore: I visit my own regularly, and pop into the local stores when we’re on the road. (We’re heading to NYC next month for the first time in ages, and a major factor in hotel selection was proximity to the Strand.)

In honor of National Independent Bookstore Day, here are three of my favorite indies:

Books move in mysterious ways.

1. Carmichael’s Bookstore, Louisville

My town’s bookstore has three locations, including Carmichael’s Kids, a bookstore devoted solely to kid lit that just opened last August a block from one of their existing locations. The local stores are located in vibrant parts of town that are a pleasure to visit.

I love Carmichael’s because it’s in my town, of course. But they also know what readers want: generous sections devoted to staff picks, employees who are passionate about reading, hours that are untraditional for retail but convenient for their customers (8:00 a.m. openings!), and easy access to great indie coffee.

(I picked up my blind date book at Carmichael’s.)

sundog books

Sundog Books, Seaside, Florida

I wonder what I would think of this store if I got to visit it in my everyday life, but alas, I only visit it on vacation. For a vacation bookstore, it’s location can’t be beat: it’s located in the heart of Seaside, just blocks from the Gulf of Mexico in the panhandle. The store itself is beautiful, with plank floors, distressed shelves, and high ceilings.

Sundog caters to vacationers, and its evident in their broad selection: I’ve discovered some favorite literary fiction thanks to their staff picks, but it’s also a great place to pick up a breezy beach read. I love Sundog for its lazy atmosphere, large children’s section, and offbeat categories: it’s the only bookstore I’ve been in where “Scandinavian mystery” got its own section.

unabridged books chicago

Unabridged Books, Chicago

We often stay in the Lakeview East neighborhood when we’re in our Chicago: Unabridged Books, located on a busy strip of Broadway, is our “local” bookstore when we’re in town.

Unabridged Books brags that it’s the only store in Chicago where you can pick up the latest issue of a magazine, a copy of Goodnight Moon, and the latest literary fiction and non-fiction sensation, all in one stop. I love it for its primo location (and close proximity to Intelligentsia Coffee, my favorite), terrific selection, and brilliantly written staff recommendations.

Tell me all about your favorite indie bookstore in comments. 

P.S. The geeky goodness of the indie bookstore.

66 comments | Comment

66 comments

  1. Linda D. says:

    Avid Bookshop here in Athens, GA! Great people run it, and it has become a community hub and gathering place. Avid has a lot planned for this Saturday too.

  2. So fun! I had no idea about independent book store day–we’ll definitely need to frequent our favorite store Daedalus here in Charlottesville, VA. My husband and I love checking out quirky bookstores on our vacations. Even on our honeymoon we stopped at Hagia Sophia in Colorado Springs.

  3. Karisa says:

    The Indie bookstore in my hometown, Scuppernong, is a bit out of the way, but so is the Barnes and Noble (what is wrong with this town?) so I need to stop using that as an excuse and support it.

    There was a beautiful one in Jackson, MS called Lemuria. They had books stacked everywhere and so many nooks, where sitting on the floor to read before you buy was not frowned upon. They would have weekly readings and signings and I wish I had taken advantage of it more because I loved that place.

  4. What a great excuse to go book shopping!

    I use the library when I’m at home, but always make it a point to stop at an indie bookstore on vacation to pick out a souvenir.

  5. Amanda says:

    I love Literati in Ann Arbor, MI (http://literatibookstore.com/). A number of small and large bookstores (the birthplace of Borders!) have closed here in recent years so I was a little concerned (but still hopeful) when Literati popped up. My concerns have fortunately been unfounded because they’ve done a fantastic job. Every time I hear about them they seem to be thriving with community support and very busy hosting readings, book clubs, and other fun events. They also have a neat partnership with a local coffee shop who recently moved in upstairs. It’s definitely a great place to check out.

  6. Ashley says:

    Although not local to me, it is a small, independent bookstore in PA. Hearts and Minds. They have a blog that I follow and fabulous customer service. I order from them all the time. And get this,they’ll send your books and wait for you to send them a check as payment! Who does that anymore.

    • MelissaJoy says:

      Hearts and Minds is over hill and dale to where I grew up in PA. I still haven’t been in the physical store but maybe I should the next time I’m in the area. Bryon Borger, the owner, gives wonderful recommendations. How did you find out about them?

    • Teresa Simmons says:

      Oh my goodness, I grew up in Dallastown and my grandparents lived right up the street from Hearts & Minds! Small world:-)

  7. What fun! These all look terrific and I’ve never been to any of them. When we were in Paris last summer, I did make a point to stop by Shakespeare & Company, which was fun (but crowded). I seem to recall you’re coming out to NC this fall for a conference and I hope you’ll be able to make it to Quail Ridge Books.

    • Aimee says:

      That’s my favorite! I live two blocks from the Colfax location and felt that I had found my serendipitous forever house when I realized where the house was in terms of the Tattered Cover! I have visions of working there when my youngest starts school!

      • Lizzie says:

        That’s awesome! I just moved here a few months ago, and if I hadn’t found a job right away I definitely would’ve applied there. Still haven’t been yet — it’s certainly long overdue!

  8. liz n. says:

    There are several very good, independently-owned, specialty bookstores in the Dallas area, but most of the indie shops that carry a general inventory have closed. Which is sad. Although Half Price Books has grown into a large company, the shops still retain a bit of indie feel, mainly because of the employees. I remember when HPB still operated its stores out of whatever retail space they could find, with whatever shelving they could find…

    Nostalgia time: Forty years ago, there was a used book store in downtown Ft. Worth that was owned by two brothers. It was fairly dark inside, had two levels accessed by rickety stairs, and every time we were downtown, I shamelessly begged my parents to go. I remember every detail of the day I found a gorgeous copy of “The Three Musketeers,” 1934 edition with stunning color plates and an embossed linen cover. I was ten years old, the book cost $5.00, and I was pretty sure my father wouldn’t spend that much money, but I HAD to have that book! I promised to rake up all the leaves in the yard if he would please, please, please buy me the book. He said that the book was a bargain and even offered to pay the store owner more because it was a valuable edition. The owner said no; he was happy that the book was going to make this little kid happy. I started reading the book as we were walking down the sidewalk and walked into a parking meter!

    The shop closed down years ago, as downtown underwent its transformation, but I can still recall every detail of the place, from the brass keyplate on the front door to the creaky fourth step on the left-side stairs to the mildewed, dusty smell of the history section; the plaid shirts the brothers always wore, the way one of their wives who helped out at the shop always gave me three lemon gumdrops if I could tell her about the last book I’d read, and how, with thousands of books upon hundreds of shelves, those two dudes always knew exactly what books they had and where to find them.

    Really miss that place.

  9. We have a great indie bookstore in KC called Rainy Day Books. I don’t think I’ve ever visited the actual bookstore, because it’s not at all close to me, but what I do take part in on a frequent basis are their author events. They bring in an amazing number of authors each year and when you buy the author’s book from Rainy Day, you get two tickets to the author’s talk. I’ve seen Ina Garten, Jim Gaffigan, Anna Quindlen, Ree Drummond, Jodi Picoult, and in May, my daughter and I are going to hear Jen Lancaster. I love these events.

  10. Brittany says:

    Browsing bookstores is one of life’s little luxuries. I’m not sure if it counts as independent but Joseph Beth in Lexington is also a good one!

  11. steph says:

    Between the Covers in Telluride is great, but I have to tout my hometown bookstore Blue Bicycle Books in Charleston, SC. I’ve been known to call it my “happy place.”

  12. Teresa Simmons says:

    On a recent weekend trip to San Francisco I discovered The Booksmith on Haight Street. The staff was super friendly and boasted a “book concierge” who gave recommendations and helped to locate titles. Shelves were lined with handwritten recommendations and they had beautifully bound classics — one section was even arranged in roygbiv style! I could have stayed inside all day!

  13. Mairsydoats says:

    Laurel Bookstore in Oakland, CA!! Tons of selection, great recommendations, and cards for every occasion. “A little bit of everything, and the ability to get the rest.” Truly a service to the community and a place to gather.

  14. Anna says:

    Love Sundog! That’s the visual I had in my head as I read The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry – except that bookstore saw wintry weather. Dallas doesn’t have a super great one. There used to be a close indie store called Legacy Books, but it closed and then reopened too far away to be a part of my regular shopping. I do love visiting indie bookstores wherever I travel. Of note (besides Sundog) are The Tattered Cover in Denver and Powell’s in Portland. Both are famous for good reason. Locally I shop used books mostly. Dallas is the headquarters for Half Price Books and their flagship store is HUGE and wonderful and each neighborhood store has a different vibe so I love that. And my hands down, number one favorite store is Recycled Books in Denton TX which is in the old Opera House on the square – a purple building with more nooks and crannies, closets, and basements than any bookstore should have a right to have. It’s a magical place. I favor the upstairs literature section, the children’s room, and the history section in the basement.

  15. Beth says:

    My favorite is Tome on the Range in Las Vegas, New Mexico! They have great selection and if you’re looking for something they don’t have, they make sure to get it for you. They also have great events with authors and local artists.

  16. Anita says:

    Before we were married, my husband and I used to go on dates to Unabriged and Intelligentsia! Love them so much. I was sad to leave them when we moved to Texas. The only bookstore near me now is Barnes & Noble. Don’t get me wrong, I like B & N, but I really miss the personality of a small independent bookseller.

    I don’t know if other readers have already mentioned, but Powell’s in Portland, OR is AMAZING. I also really loved Tattered Cover in Denver. I could, and have, spend hours (days?) in those stores.

  17. Mimi says:

    Parnassus Books here in Nashville is owned by author Ann Patchett and always has dogs and children and plenty of excellent recommendations.

  18. What a great post! My favorite indies here in Boston are Brookline Booksmith in the heart of Brookline – a huge kids’ section, great staff recs and a big used book cellar (ha). It has a great events lineup too. I also love the Harvard Book Store (not affiliated with the university) right in the heart of Harvard Square.

  19. Dana says:

    Mine is Park Road Books in Charlotte. It is a mile from my house and makes a great walk or bike ride. It is also in the same shopping center as my tea shop and grocery store so I have many excuses to go there. The staff has been there forever and they are wonderful! They make fabulous recommendations on books. They allow my dog to come in so she loves it too. They have a bookstore dog named Yola. My husband and I do all of our shopping for each other there. He and I met in another indie store where I was working while in grad school. It closed about 10 years ago.

    Another favorite is Litchfield Books in Pawley’s Island SC. I have made some great discoveries there. They carry lots of books from regional writers that you don’t see elsewhere.

  20. Jamie says:

    First, jealous you get to go to New York soon. Have fun! A local bookstore, Watermark, does a ridiculously good job of getting author signings in town. They know what their customers want, provide excellent service, and stay engaged with the community. But I mostly buy at Bookaholic, a trade-in store. The one near our house is quirky, has a great selection, and gives store credit for book trade ins! A gift card from there is like gold.

  21. MelissaJoy says:

    Wild Rumpus in Minneapolis is one of my faves. It’s a children’s book store, with a tiny door for the wee ones, in our neighborhood. Chickens, cats, birds, chinchillas and more make finding a book so delightful. I am endeared to the books that have been pecked 🙂

  22. Erin Miller says:

    Square Books in Oxford, MS, ranks right up there!!

    On another note, my husband and I are thinking of going to Chicago for our 10th anniversary next year. How about writing a post on your favorite places in Chicago?

  23. Kate says:

    Eight Cousins in Falmouth, MA is my favorite place to by kid lit..I always spend time there when I’m on Cape Cod. In my home town, we no longer have any independents nearby, just B&N and the great local library system. I’d have to go into DC to get to an indie book shop, sadly. I do live close to a couple of great used book stores though.

  24. I used to hang out in the Northshire bookstore in Manchester, VT every day back when we lived in southwest Vermont. It’s a delightful place, even when it’s filled with tourists in puffy ski jackets or chic outdoor “gear.” 😉

  25. Elizabeth says:

    Page and Palette in Fairhope, AL! I live in TX, but have most of my books shipped to me from there.

  26. Nancy says:

    Anne,
    I’ll bet once you make it to St. Louis, The Novel Neighbor will make your list!
    Looking forward to seeing you in NYC!

  27. Cindy says:

    So it looks like I finally have a good reason to watch You’ve Got Mail again and visit our little bookstore. What a weekend!

  28. Annie says:

    Is it cheating to say my own? 🙂 My husband and I bought a bookstore two years ago, so we’ll be celebrating Indie Bookstore Day at The Bookshelf, our very own indie bookstore in our small, Southern town of Thomasville, Georgia. Supporting your independent bookstore is so important — I know that now more than ever before. Amazon is cheaper, of course, but there’s something special about the locally-owned shops, the ones that invest in our communities and act as town gathering places. Hooray for the independently-owned bookstore!

    • Courtney says:

      Annie, I was going to mention The Bookshelf. It is my favorite thing about Thomasville, next to Grassroots! So glad it exists, and you’ve done a fantastic job with it!

  29. Aimee says:

    I have been so lucky to live near a couple of super cool bookstores, a good thing, since I’m a major bookworm! I grew up in Powells in Portland and now live a couple blocks from the Tattered Cover in Denver as I mentioned earlier. In Vienna, Austria there is a great book shop called Shakespeare & Co and I loved it when I lived there. My husband, brother-in-law and sister-in-law all worked at Full Circle in Oklahoma City through college. We always stop by when we are in town! It’s a great one!

  30. Patty R. says:

    Since moving to Northern Virginia, I haven’t found a good indie bookstore (but lots of great used bookstores!). However, when we lived in Winchester, Va., we loved visiting the Winchester Book Gallery. It’s located in charming old town Winchester, has a great kids’ section (in a loft area!) and even has occasional family board game nights. And it’s still close enough for us to visit now and then.

  31. Charlotte says:

    Powell’s City of Books in Portland is easily the most impressive indie bookstore I’ve ever seen! Anytime I’m downtown I have to make a Powell’s stop. My husband even proposed there! It’s bibliophile Mecca.

  32. Susan C. says:

    When my husband and I moved from Hawaii 7 years ago, we had to say farewell to our favorite local bookshop BookEnds in Kailua, Oahu.

    Since moving to Texas, we discovered a new favorite, Book People in Austin. It is quirky and cool, near downtown, near Whole Foods. Two stories with lots to discover. A coffee shop on the first floor, the children’s section on the second floor, with little baskets of toys and trinkets on the stairs. And souvenirs to take home or send to family and friends.

    • Anne says:

      This makes me happy and sad—I was in Austin this time two years ago and could practically see Book People from the highway on my way out to the hill country … but I didn’t get to visit. Next time!

  33. MJ says:

    If you’re ever in the Vail, Colorado area, the Bookworm in Edwards is a wonderful little bookstore with an awesome coffee shop/cafe inside.

  34. Wild Rumpus in Minneapolis, MN. Publishers Weekly Best Bookstore of 2017! It’s a children’s bookstore (think “Shop Around the Corner” with a few animals roaming about—yes, you read that correctly). It’s in a quaint little neighborhood in south Minneapolis and is definitely worth the visit. 🙂

  35. Jennifer Williams says:

    My absolutely favorite indie bookstore is Sundog Books in seaside, FL. It is an amazing place and such a good place to wander through after a lounging all day on the beach and eating shrimp and grits at the Great Southern restaurant. The employees are really fun to visit with and have great recommendations on books and much more.
    My second fave indie is the MacDonald Book Shop in Estes Park, CO. Very fun! It has a front entrance off the main street in the small town with lots of benches to sit and read and to people watch, and a back entrance that heads you out towards the river. Once again, very helpful and friendly staff. I so love independent book stores. I get excited when we are traveling and we “discover” one. And I can always look at certain books on my bookshelves and know exactly which indie book shop I bought them from, and it brings back wonderful memories. 🙂

  36. Cokie says:

    Perhaps the #1 tourist destination in Portland, OR, is Powell’s City of Books: “Powell’s City of Books is the largest used and new bookstore in the world, occupying an entire city block and housing approximately one million books. Located in downtown Portland’s Pearl District, the City of Books has nine color-coded rooms and over 3,500 different sections, offering something for every interest, including an incredible selection of out-of-print and hard-to-find titles.” http://www.powells.com

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