18 of the Best Independent Bookstores to Visit Across the United States

Best Used and New Independent Local Bookstores in the USA

Photo: Stock Photos from DON PABLO/Shutterstock
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In the classic 1990s movie You've Got Mail, the small children's bookstore “Shop Around the Corner” fights to stay afloat when a large bargain bookstore chain opens nearby. The proprietor Kathleen Kelly, played by Meg Ryan, tells the owner of the chain, Joe Fox (aka Tom Hanks), exactly what is so special about her independent, long-standing bookstore. “Whatever else anything is, it ought to begin by being personal,” she explains. Over 20 years later, this wisdom still stands. Based in personal stories and embedded in communities, independent bookstores are important as gathering places for enjoying literature and life.

The independent bookstore has adapted to the 21st century. Despite the impact of online sellers and retail chains in the 2000s, the American Booksellers Association reports, “Over the past 10 years, there has been a national resurgence for independent bookstores.” They note, “As of December 2019, compound annual growth among ABA member stores is 7.5 percent over the past five years.” Although the rise in sales is small, it is consistent proof that these local institutions are not going anywhere.

Read on to explore some of the best, brightest, and most eccentric independent bookstores across the United States. Many now offer online sales as well, so you can explore and support the business no matter where you live. Others host author talks, readings, and panels both in-person and online. Whatever book you are searching for—new, rare, or used—an independent bookstore can find it for you.

In search of your next read? Don't forget to check out My Modern Met's curated booklists on Bookshop.org—a website that allows you to shop hundreds of local bookstores on one easy platform. Read local, shop local, and build community with these magnificent shops below.

 

Scroll down to find an awesome independent bookstore near you.

Best Used and New Independent Local Bookstores in the USA

Photo: Stock Photos from JWCOHEN/Shutterstock

 

BookPeople in Austin, TX

 

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Founded in 1970, BookPeople is a destination that has hosted Presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton. You will find new books, clever gifts, and of course coffee.

 

Blue Bicycle Books in Charleston, SC

Blue Bicycle Books hosts about 200 author talks and readings a year. This used and new bookstore also sponsors YALLFest, Charleston’s young adult book festival for all things YA.

 

Semicolon Bookstore and Gallery in Chicago, IL

 

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This black-woman owned bookstore and gallery is devoted to books and the community that reading brings. Semicolon Bookstore‘s Parenthesis Nonprofit is trying to #ClearTheShelves as lovers of reading donate to provide books for Chicago Public Schools students.

 

The Last Bookstore in Los Angeles, CA

 

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The Last Bookstore is an LA landmark. You will find a massive selection of new and used books, as well as records. The store was founded as a bastion of independence against the growth of retail giants.

 

Omnivore Books in San Francisco, CA

 

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Omnivore Books‘ offerings will make you hungry for food-based content. The curated contents of the bookshop focus on food and you'll love their pairings. In addition to vintage books and new books, this quirky bookstore has also added foodie face masks to its inventory.

 

Birchbark Books and Native Arts in Minneapolis, MN

The native-owned Birchbark Books was founded by author Louise Erdrich, who is a National Book Award winner and a member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa. The store features a children's reading loft, Native art and books, and an online store. Describing themselves, they write “We are a teaching bookstore.”

 

Parnassus Books in Nashville, TN

 

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Named after the mythical Mount Parnassus (home of literature, learning, and music), Parnassus Books was a passion venture by author Ann Patchett and publishing veteran Karen Hayes. The bookstore—in addition to its impressive offerings—has a First Editions Club, where you get a new signed book every month.

 

Mitzi’s Books in Rapid City, SD

 

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Mitzi's Books is an indie bookstore all about indie booklists. Browse by subject or peruse their curated lists of titles—you can even create your own wishlists to come back to.

 

Mahogany Books in Washington, DC

 

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Founded in 2007 by Derrick and Ramunda Young, Mahogany Books is a literary hotspot in Washington, D.C. (with a new location opening soon in National Harbor, Prince George’s County, Maryland). On their website—Black Books Matter—you will find interviews, reviews, and recommendations devoted to Black authors from around the world.

 

Brattle Book Shop in Boston, MA

 

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Welcome to Brattle Book Shop, affectionately known as The Brattle. You will find regular used books, but also some exceptionally special volumes of rare and antiquarian volumes. The store has existed since 1825, and been in the same family since 1949.

 

Greedy Reads in Baltimore, MD

 

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With two locations in Baltimore, Greedy Reads has thousands of titles. The shop is available online and also offers curated bags for all ages and at different price ranges.

 

The Potter's House in Washington, D.C.

 

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In the D.C. neighborhood of Adams Morgan, The Potter's House has been a fixture of community since 1960. With a wide selection of books on topics ranging from race to spirituality to politics, the bookstore also doubles as a café which serves everyone—regardless of their ability to pay. Their biscuit breakfast sandwiches will be the highlight of your day.

 

Powell's Books in Portland, Oregon

 

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A third-generation family-owned business, Powell's Books is a Portland institution selling new and used books. Emily Powell now leads the business. She says of the store's legacy, “My grandfather taught me that our job is to connect the writer's voice with the reader's ear and not let our egos get in between. My father taught me not only the love of the book itself but also how to love the business of bookselling.”

 

The Strand in New York, NY

The Strand is an iconic independent bookstore in New York City that has turned into a tourist hotspot over the years. First established in 1927, The Strand was one of many bookstores across a six-block stretch of the city known as “Book Row.” It now remains the sole survivor of Book Row and has appeared in many quintessential New York TV shows and films. Most recently, it has played a pivotal role in Netflix's series Dash and Lily.

 

Bliss Books & Wine in Kansas City, MO

What could be better than fine wine and good books? Bliss Books & Wine is a Black-woman-owned independent bookstore dedicated to the “perfect pairing.” Featured in Oprah Magazine, the bookstore is dedicated to supporting local artists and literary curiosity.

 

The Elliott Bay Book Company in Seattle, WA

Founded in 1973, The Elliott Bay Book Company hosts events from book signings to dance performances. The massive store houses over 150,000 titles, most of which are also available to purchase online. If you are not sure what you are looking for, try their “Blind Date with a Book.” You never know what you might get.

 

Housing Works in New York, NY

 

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This New York institution is dedicated to advocacy for “ending the twin crises of AIDS and homelessness.” Housing Works is a network of businesses to this end, including online and brick-and-mortar bookstores. You can even host events in the bookstore!

 

City Lights in San Francisco, CA

 

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How better to end a list of incredible independent bookstores than to highlight City Lights, the legendary San Fran bookstore which began selling only paperbacks in 1953. A must-see stop on any tour of the city, City Lights also has its own publishing imprint to carry on the legacy of its founders Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Peter D. Martin.

 

Related Articles:

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Incredible ‘Bookshelf Theater’ Unveiled at Tokyo’s Kadokawa Culture Museum

Empowering Children’s Books Remind Black Sons “They Are Every Good Thing” [Interview]

Madeleine Muzdakis

Madeleine Muzdakis is a Contributing Writer at My Modern Met and a historian of early modern Britain & the Atlantic world. She holds a BA in History and Mathematics from Brown University and an MA in European & Russian Studies from Yale University. Madeleine has worked in archives and museums for years with a particular focus on photography and arts education. When she isn’t writing, she enjoys hiking, film photography, and reading while cuddling with her cat Georgia.
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