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5 indie bookstores in America that’ll make you pick up a book again

It’s quite fashionable to talk about the death of bookstores, books and/or reading these days. But while many people may be switching to e-readers, that doesn’t mean the death of books. In fact, on my Great American Hipster Tour, I purposely sought out some indie bookshops. Seeing what the locals read is as enlightening and interesting as checking out their grocery stores or street food.

Many of these independent bookstores in America offer online bookshops, but the real beauty of an indie bookshop is to see what they’ve got on their shelf. Personally I love peeking at the staff recommendations to see what the bookstore employees are reading themselves—that’s a great indicator of whether or not the bookstore is for you!

Book Loft in Columbus, OH

This 32-room building in the German Village district of Columbus is the epitome of an indie bookstore. Whether by design or just because of haphazard planning, you’re almost guaranteed to get lost between the stacks. Over two floors and with a pretty garden in the back, the bookstore and cafe used to be a store, saloon and nickeloden cinema until it was repurposed. Today it houses over 100,000 books making it one of the largest independent bookstores in America.

The Book Loft (@TheBookLoft1)

631 South Third Street
Columbus, Ohio
(614) 464-1774

indie bookshop in San francisco

Dog Eared Books in San Francisco, CA

This little bookshop in San Francisco’s hipster ‘hood, the Mission District, is a pretty sleek affair. The bookstore just reached its 20th anniversary and regularly holds local events. Inside Dog Eared, you’ll find just about everything—from quirky, indie authors to stuffy classics. There are even entire sections devoted to Beat Literature, Noir mysteries and sustainable living. Check the staff pics table for an even more eclectic selection.

Dog Eared Books

900 Valencia (at 20th St.)
San Francisco, CA
(415) 282-1901

Brookline Booksmith in Boston, MA

My old local bookshop—the Booksmith—has long been a symbol of Brookline’s Coolidge Corner. They’ve outlived Barnes & Noble, so you know they’re a force to be reckoned with. The store hosts some of the best events in Boston—often partnering with the Coolidge Corner Theater to host authors and other guest speakers. The bargain basement downstairs is a great place to find used books, too.

Brookline Booksmith (@booksmithtweets)

279 Harvard Street
Brookline, MA
(617) 566-6660

Photo Credit: scramblesuit

BookPeople in Austin, TX

In that city of hipsters, BookPeople has long been a staple symbol of the city’s literary history. The multi-floor bookstore feels a bit more commercial than most independent stores, but it’s a great place to book-browse or get some work done in the café. They sell @OutofPrintTees here, as well…and across the street is Waterloo—an excellent indie music shop. Make a day of being an Austin hipster and spend a few hours at BookPeople.

BookPeople (@BookPeople)

603 North Lamar Boulevard
Austin, TX
(512) 472-5050

Strand Bookstore in NYC, NY

One of the most popular bookstores in New York City, the Strand is probably already on most tourist lists for Manhattan. But that doesn’t make it any less cool. Maybe it’s so popular because the Strand features so prominently in pop culture and makes occasional movie cameos. Or maybe it’s because one in ten people in the Northeast of America have a hipster tote bag from the Strand. Or maybe it’s because the bookstore was the target of an Improv Everywhere gig. It doesn’t matter. Go here. You won’t be disappointed.

Strand Bookstore (@strandbookstore)

828 Broadway
New York, NY
(212) 473-1452

  1. Ooh, five is too short!!!!

    Powell’s City of Books in Portland
    Politics and Prose in D.C.
    City Lights in San Francisco
    A Room of One’s Own in Madison, Wisconsin

    (Candida’s World of Books in D.C., sadly, is gone)

    • Definitely Powell’s and City Lights….and Elliot Bay Bookstore in Seattle!

    • Adam says:

      Hey thanks for the suggestions Kevin! Seems lots of people on Twitter are recommending Powell’s as well. I’ve heard of it before but I’ve still never been to Portland (shameful, I know, considering my self-proclaimed hipsterdom).

      Really appreciate your suggestions, cheers!

  2. The Strand is SUPER cool! I haven’t been to any of the others, but I’ll at least have to go to BookPeople next time I visit Austin. Bookstores are so fascinating because they all have their own personalities. Thank you for sharing!

    • Adam says:

      Great comment, Kay, about bookstores having their own personalities. Let me know what you think of BookPeople!

  3. YAY for Brookline Booksmith, my fabulous hometown bookstore!!!! “The fine art of browsing” indeed.

  4. oh, your title brought me in, and the joys of the article kept me reading! thanks – i’ve only been to ONE of these 5 great stores! thanks!

  5. These all sound really awesome even though I sadly haven’t visited any of them. The last great bookstore I visited was Powell’s. In Chicago we have Myopic, which is cool but small.

  6. Edward the Book Guy says:

    Powell’s City of Books is one of the best bookstores in America, hands down. If you have not seen it, it is worth planning a trip around. I love the Book Celler and Book People. The Strand did not do that much for me, but that was the service.

    Others to try Bookman’s in Arizona (5 locations all used) and Ukazoo Books in Baltimore area (used and new). Both will make you buy a few more books than you thought you would and are filled with people who love books.

  7. Micki says:

    As a Canadian, I’m a huge fan of the McNally Robinson chain. We travel so much that we rarely get a book that’s not in electronic form, but it’s just so wonderful to be in a great bookstore and browse through the shelves.

    • Adam says:

      I’ve started using an e-reader so I have less and less printed books as well. Thanks for the tip about the Canadian bookstore!

  8. Molly Nurse says:

    Ah I love independent bookstores. I could honestly spend hours in them. These are going on my ‘one day I’ll go back to the US and visit cool stuff’ list!

  9. Great subject (and smart-sounding list). I love Strand, but if you ever branch out to a Top Ten I vote for Book Culture, a terrific bookstore with two shops (one for mainstream books, the other for academic books and remainders) steps away from Columbia University.

  10. I need to remember these…if you ever find yourself in Asheville, North Carolina, check out the Battery Park Book Exchange.

  11. Giulia says:

    After a short, pre-Thanksgiving trip down to DC, I can highly recommend Kramerbooks & Afterwords near DuPont Circle. Not only is it one of the coziest, best-stocked bookstores I’ve ever visited, it also has a full restaurant in the back that serves all three meals (delicious classics like cajun and creole cooking, great pasta, and a to-die-for selection of pies), is open late every night and 24 hours on weekends, AND has live jazz several nights a week. I could live there!

  12. Noah @ Somewhere Or Bust says:

    My friends and I were just at The Strand yesterday and we were debating what 18 miles of books looks like–is that cover to cover or turned 90 or laid down on their bindings? We never settled this…

  13. Alexis says:

    Like a few other commenters, I definitely recommend Powell´s in Portland, OR. Its the best book store Ive ever been to and just a great place to hang out.

    And I also second Bookmans (around Arizona) for selling used books. I swear I must have bought and sold hundreds of dollars worth of books there over the years.

  14. christine says:

    Powells, powells, powells. The Last Bookstore in downtown LA.

  15. Katie says:

    The Tattered Cover in Denver, CO!

  16. Closing thoughts on the ‘Great American Hipster Project’ | Wikitravels says:

    […] Getting lost in the book stacks at The Book Loft […]

  17. harm says:

    Nicola’s in Ann Arbor, MI

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