All My Lovin’: My All Time Top Ten Favorite Independent Bookstores

Dear Reader:

What is it about a sunny, cold spring day?  The light always seems brightly bleak.  Is the light really different or is it just the lack of leaves?  The light in Easter photos always seems so specific.

My Top Ten Independent Bookstores

I’ve been meaning to do this post for a while.  I’ve been in love with independent bookstores for decades.  Whether I’m moving to a new place or checking a store out on a trip, it is always an important highlight.  I chose to feature only those bookstores that are still with us.  This sadly eliminated some faves, but my goal it celebrate places that you might choose to someday visit.

1) Snowbound Books, Marquette, Michigan

“The place for people allergic to life without books.

This is the best bookstore that is relatively close by.  And really, we have no right to ask more – this bookstore has everything (I feel like I’m channeling Stefon at Saturday Night Live – if you haven’t seen Bill Hader’s excellent character, check him out).

Source: http://www.snowboundbooks.com/

But seriously, Snowbound is a wonderful, wonderful local bookstore featuring a mix of new and used books.  Their regional, literary fiction, and children’s sections are particularly exemplary.

This is a bookstore that enjoys a passionate following from local and regional book lovers.  I’ve been there many Saturdays and it is always full of happy people looking for their next great read.  The staff and owners are serious readers with excellent recommending skills.  Snowbound buys used books for cash or store credit and they have a book-searchable web site.  They are happy to order any book for in-store pickup or to be mailed to you wherever you are.

2) The Montague Bookmill, Montague, Massachusetts

Books you don’t need in a place you can’t find.

I’ve only been here once, but it was very memorable.  This is a large, sprawling, tucked away bookstore in a site that also features multiple in-store and adjacent cafes and galleries.

Source: http://www.montaguebookmill.com/index.html

The Bookmill is a used bookstore specializing in academic books.  I had the great joy of visiting during a trip out to stay with a friend in Brattleboro, Vermont.  We did a whirlwind nine-bookstore tour of southern Vermont and western Massachusetts.  Definitely a dream trip for me!

I also have the bag!

3) Pegasus Books, Berkeley, California

Three great bookstores, in three great neighborhoods.

I graduated from UC Berkeley in the late 90s when I was nearly 30.  I lived in the town for three years.  It was the first time I lived in a small city surrounded by fantastic bookstores.  Sadly, some are no longer with us.

Source: http://www.pegasusbookstore.com/

The Pegasus Solano bookstore was closest to me and I frequented it often.

Pegasus on Solano.  Source: http://www.pegasusbookstore.com/history

Pegasus has a mix of new and used books.  They are a neighborhood hangout for many.  Not your standard cozy little independent, but more of an open, spacious store with lots of great books and sales.

Darn good paper for a bookmark, but not strong enough to stand up to a GSD pup.

4) Moe’s Bookstore, Berkeley, California

World Famous Destination for book lovers since 1959.

Moe’s is a super-cool, many floored new and used bookstore on Berkeley’s famous Telegraph Avenue.  When I was a Cal student, it was just a few storefronts away from Cody’s (may she rest in peace).

Source: http://moesbooks.com/

This is an all-day bookstore with tons of academic, specialty books, lots of poetry and literary fiction, and shelves and shelves of everything else.  I was thrilled to get back to Berkeley two years ago and hiked around to all my faves, including Moe’s where I got a bunch of great obscure mysteries.

5) University Bookstore, Seattle, Washington

Does a university-owned bookstore count as independent?  I’m not sure.  But I’ve been at my share of universities and most don’t sport great bookstores.  The University of Washington is an exception.  I did my PhD here and spent a lot of time perusing the stacks.

Source: http://www.bookstore.washington.edu/home/home.taf?

Most university bookstores focus mostly on providing books for courses and a wide array of university-themed clothing and notebooks.  UBS has that stuff, but separates them from their excellent, street-level new bookstore.  With an thorough array of academic and literary fiction books, it serves as the Wallingford neighborhood’s main bookstore.  UBS sponsors an EXCELLENT author series – during my early nineties years I saw Peter Matthiesen, John Denver (yea, yea, I was a big fan), and lots of other authors.

6) Paul’s Bookstore, Madison, Wisconsin

670 State Street

State Street is the Madison main drag just a block off campus.  I’ve only been to this store a few times.  It is a destination for me whenever I get the happy chance to visit Madison (amazing farmer’s markets, fantastic restaurants).  Paul’s is strictly an excellent used bookstore.  But it is a great store with amazing literature and biography sections and extensive sections of books on every academic topic you can think of.  One of those places where you need a ladder and a willingness to poke through piles on the floor and to be unafraid to elbow by someone through the narrow spaces.  It does not appear to have a website.

7) A Room of One’s Own, Madison, Wisconsin

After you’ve spent the morning at Paul’s and replenished yourself with some excellent Tibetan or East African food, wander up State Street a few blocks to A Room of One’s Own.  This feminist bookstore has a coffee shop, gifts, and a wonderful selection of feminist and GLBT books.

Source: http://www.roomofonesown.com/

The atmosphere is upbeat and lovely.  I enjoy seeing the owners and this is definitely the kind of small, focused, but great bookstore that I think is likely to struggle in today’s environment, but is also so worthy of our support.

8) Artis Books, Calumet, Michigan

This is another bookstore local to me.  Artis specializes in used and rare books.  They are at the end of a brick-paved street in downtown Calumet – which has the distinction of being one of the few US towns to also be a national park.  Keweenaw National Historic Park is composed of a web of cooperating sites focused on historic copper mining.  Calumet is a pretty little historic village with lots to walk around and do.

Source: Abebooks.com

Artis’s inventory is searchable at Abebooks.  They specialize in books of regional interest and have extensive classic literature and history sections.  The store also sells local artwork and hosts a tiny cafe with tables.

They do buyback for cash or store credit.

9) Seminary Co-op Bookstore, Hyde Park, Chicago, Illinois

An independent bookstore in Hyde Park serving readers locally and worldwide.

This is a sentimental favorite that I haven’t visited since 1982.  I started college at the marvelous University of Chicago.  I’ve written before about my limited access to books growing up.  The U of C and its six million books floored me.  But I also loved some of the neighborhood bookstores.

Source: http://www.semcoop.com/

The Seminary Co-op Bookstore was a bit of an out of the way store tucked in the basement.  Entering it was a bit of religious experience for me, no pun intended.  What I remember best was being face to face with a massive display of Penguin classics.  My goodness!  So many fantastic books at great prices all in one place.

Today’s Seminary bookstore features an author series and the Front Table book blog with reviews and other musings.  The store’s website announces that they will be moving out of their beloved location this summer.  Hopefully, to a more obvious place that can pick up foot traffic.  While their location added to patrons’ sense of being “in the know” it probably didn’t enhance their sales to people who weren’t.

10) Powell’s Bookstore, Portland, Oregon

Ahhh, the mighty Powell’s new and used bookstore.  It bills itself as the biggest independent bookstore in the world.  Most people think of the Powell’s City of Books site that takes up (fully) a good size city block with multiple floors and rooms of books.  But Powell’s is really a suite of stores spread out throughout the Portland area, including a freestanding home and garden bookstore.

Source: http://www.powells.com/

If you’ve never been, you are in for a treat.  But please, please, please, set aside a full day, or probably even better, three four hour chunks of time spread over three days for your visit.  And prepare to be overwhelmed.  Take things slow, focus, deep breaths…

Powells’ book rooms are named by color and you really need to pick up a map on your way in.  This is a three story bookstore that houses 1 million books, 122 subject areas, and an average of 80,000 visitors a day in person and online.  It includes a fantastic cafe (you NEVER need to leave!) and rare books room.

Happily, Powells has segued well into the internet age with an excellent website where you can create wish lists and buy ebooks.  I have Powells in my web browser toolbar and buy from them frequently.  Why didn’t I list them #1?  Well, mostly because I fear they are a bit of a bohemoth and I wanted to give the smaller stores a shot.  But, although they are huge, they, like most other bookstores, are hurting and have at least temporarily laid off staff in the past year.

Wrap-up

That’s it, my favorites!  The next time you buy a book, consider going to your locally-owned bookstore in-person or online.  And if you don’t have one, patronize one of my favorites – most have excellent online searching.

And we’d love to hear – what’s your favorite bookstore(s) (independent or not)?

April is National Poetry Month

The Zoë in Repose.

The Power of the Dog

There is sorrow enough in the natural way
From men and women to fill our day;
And when we are certain of sorrow in store,
Why do we always arrange for more?
Brothers and Sisters I bid you beware
Of giving your heart to a dog to tear.

Buy a pup and your money will buy
Love unflinching that cannot lie–
Perfect passion and worship fed
By a kick in the ribs or a pat on the head.
Nevertheless it is hardly fair
To risk your heart for a dog to tear.

When the fourteen years which Nature permits
Are closing in asthma, or tumour, or fits,
And the vet’s unspoken prescription runs
To lethal chambers or loaded guns–
Then you will find–it’s your own affair–
But…you’ve given your heart to a dog to tear.

When the body that lived at your single will,
With its whimper of welcome, is stilled (how still!);
When the spirit that answered your every mood
Is gone–wherever it goes–for good,
You will discover how much you care,
And will give your heart to a dog to tear.

We’ve sorrow enough in a natural way,
When it comes to burying Christian clay.
Our loves are not given, but only lent,
At compound interest of cent per cent.
Though it is not always the case, I believe,
For, when debts are payable, right or wrong,
A short-time loan is as bad as a long–
So why in–Heaven (before we are there)
Should we give our hearts to a dog to tear?

Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936)

Happy Reading, Ruby

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4 Comments

  1. I am very fond of Snowbound in Marquette and have spent many hours there. One of the all-time best independent bookstores I’ve been to would have to be Denver’s downtown Tattered Covers (they have more than one location – I’ve only been to the one.) Huge old building with lots of character, and characters, has been hosting famous artists for years (first was Ansel Adams in 1977.) When you get to Denver this is a must visit store. Make sure you have time to spend!

    • Hi Christy: Yes, we are so lucky to have Snowbound. I only got to Tattered Covers once – the Cherry Creek mall one, I think. I made a pilgrimage out there when I was in Denver in the mid-90s. LOVED it! What a great bookstore. Can’t wait to get back someday, Ruby

  2. I haven’t been to any of these but they all sound wonderful! I miss The Strand in NYC, but it’s encouraging that indy bookstores seem to be making a resurgence.

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