No matter how bleak the news about publishing gets, independently owned bookstores are surviving, and in some cases thriving, in an Amazon-ruled, post-bookstore chain environment that shouldn’t necessarily be hospitable to shops that handsell books to locals. Enough has been written about why you should support your local indie that you shouldn’t need us to tell you about that. So as we approach the season when you’ll be spending money on gifts, as well as looking for engrossing reads to get you through the cold winter, we’re instead supplying you with a list of 45 great American indie bookstores (in no particular order) that sell new or used novels, art books, zines, coffee, that biography you really need to read, and/or delicious vegan treats — all of which are as important to their community as any business you can think of, and deserve your support.
Parnassus Books, Nashville, TN
When Nashville lost its only indie bookstore, author Ann Patchett and Karen Hayes decided to do the reasonable thing: they opened up Parnassus, because they believed that books should be bought from people, not the Internet. If you’re ever anywhere near Nashville, you owe yourself a trip to visit Ann and Karen.
Politics & Prose, Washington, DC
The Capitol City boasts one of the greatest indie bookstores in the land. Politics & Prose lives up to its name by carrying just about everything you could want to read, be it fiction or non, and is also one of the places that every author (and we really mean every author) has to stop by if they have a new book out.
Quimby’s, Chicago, IL
You don’t go to this Wicker Park institution because you want to get the latest hot novel on the New York Times bestseller list; this place is a mecca for fans of zines, underground comics, small-press releases, and random esoterica.
This New England temple of cozy is housed in a 19th-century gristmill, has a waterfall running down the side of it, a great little café where you can sit and drink beer, and one of the best selections of used books in the region. They even have a section dedicated to the Bloomsbury Set.
BookPeople, Austin, TX
While you might think of BBQ, football, and music festivals first when you think of Austin, it’s about time we start recognizing the Texas capitol as the home of one of the best bookstores in the entire country — and that’s why the city is also the Lone Star State’s capitol of books!
McNally Jackson, New York, NY
Ask yourself what it would take for a bookstore to have everything you could ever want: a section dedicated to European literature, great coffee, seemingly every magazine that’s currently in print, a knowledgeable staff, an Espresso Book Machine that lets you print your own novel, and great events, perhaps? McNally Jackson has all of those things, and that’s why it is the best bookstore in Manhattan.
Subterranean Books, St. Louis, MO
For 13 years now, Subterranean has been book central in St. Louis, selling everything from big-name titles to indie-press books you won’t find anywhere else in the city. They have a small staff, but boy do they have good taste.
Singularity & Co., Brooklyn, NY
The place that all of your dorky dreams are made of, this Brooklyn shop has fast become home to the city’s biggest fans of sci-fi, fantasy, and old pulp novels.
The Poisoned Pen, Scottsdale, AZ
We’re jealous that Scottsdale gets a great bookstore that specializes in mystery and crime fiction, especially considering that they also run an indie crime fiction publishing house out of there.
City Lights Bookstore, San Francisco, CA
You’ve heard of this literary landmark, right? If for some reason you’ve been to San Francisco but haven’t visited this iconic bookstore, you really need to make another trip there, because this place isn’t some tourist trap for counterculture aficionados; City Lights is one heck of a great bookstore.
A Cappella Books, Atlanta, GA
WORD, Brooklyn, NY and Jersey City, NJ
If there’s one indie-bookstore inspiration story that gives us the most hope, it’s WORD doing well enough in the Greenpoint section of Brooklyn to open up a second location across the water in New Jersey. This is a bookstore that the neighborhood flocks to and builds around.
The Last Bookstore, Los Angeles, CA
Any list of the world’s most beautiful bookstores that doesn’t include this LA shop, which Casey N. Cep at The Paris Review wrote was fast becoming “an almost 20,000-square-foot cathedral of books,” is hereby null and void. Photos don’t even do it justice. You have to see this place to believe it.
Atomic Books, Baltimore, MD
This Charm City institution’s slogan is “literary finds for mutated minds,” and it’s been waving its freak flag (in one form or another) for over 20 years. While you’ll certainly find plenty of fiction and nonfiction here, it’s the beautifully curated selection of comics, zines, art books, periodicals, and highly coveted geek toys — as well as its friendly and well-read staff — that make Atomic a destination. And if that doesn’t sell you, how about the fact that John Waters picks up his fan mail here? Or maybe you’re interested in the highly literary bar Atomic just opened?
Books & Books, Miami, FL
South Florida’s indie chain bookstore (with three primary locations and a few smaller stores) hosts pretty much all of the literary events in the region, and has a knowledgeable staff to help handsell even the most clueless sun-baked customer.
Square Books, Oxford, MS.
Prairie Lights, Iowa City, IA
This heartland bookstore has played host to several Nobel Prize winners, including Saul Bellow, Seamus Heaney, Toni Morrison, and that guy you see in the picture above, who stopped by for a visit in 2010. Interestingly enough, the store is housed in a space once occupied by a coffeehouse that hosted the likes of Carl Sandburg, Robert Frost, E.E. Cummings, and Langston Hughes. It’s pretty hard to get more literary than this place.
Village Books, Bellingham, WA
When you talk about a bookstore being the heart of a community, Village Books in the Bellingham neighborhood of Fairfield is one of the first places that comes to mind. The beautiful building, the knowledgeable staff, and their programs to help local writers all make Village the kind of local indie that other indies look to for inspiration.
Book Beat, Oak Park, MI
It’s kinda hard to not appreciate a bookstore whose Facebook page welcomes you with an “Amazon Free Zone” sign situated right near a Borges quote. If that doesn’t get you to go buy a book or two from Book Beat the next time you’re in the area, then I fear you just have a cold, dead heart.
Seminary Co-op, Chicago, IL
So indie that it’s run by its members. This legendary Hyde Park institution moved to its new location around this time last year, and things only seem to moving onward and upward for this beloved Windy City institution.
RiverRun, Portsmouth, NH
There was trouble brewing for this New Hampshire literary haven a few years back, but the community rallied behind the shop, and now the business is so successful that it’s getting set to open a second location. Also, this message from the store website’s “About Us” section will fill your heart with small-business love:
We are living the dream! No, really, we are. I’m very proud to say that RiverRun Bookstore is now ELEVEN years old, and going strong. People always say “I’ve always wanted to open a bookstore” with a wistful look, like they would have done it if only they had drawn the lucky number, or found the golden ticket. Or they would have done it if it wasn’t a completely crazy, quixotic endeavor in this modern world. Well we did it, and all it took was guts, and faith in our community.
Diesel, A Bookstore, Oakland, CA
Things that make people consider moving to the Bay Area include the burritos, nice weather, and indie bookstores with neon signs. Even though they also have stores in Malibu and Santa Monica, the fact that they stock one of Oakland’s most diverse selections of books makes us partial to this spot.
Maple Street Books, New Orleans, LA
Maple Street has been a New Orleans institution since the 1960s, and has two locations to serve the locals and tourists who can break away from partying in America’s most seductive city to hang out and read a good book. And you can’t help but love the way they champion local authors.
A Room of One’s Own, Madison, WI
When this great Madison shop teamed up with a local used bookstore, literary magic happened, and all of Madison has benefited from it.
Housing Works Bookstore Cafe, New York, NY
It really does take a lot to become an institution in New York City, and Housing Works, whose mission is to “end the dual crises of homelessness and AIDS through relentless advocacy, the provision of lifesaving services, and entrepreneurial businesses,” has achieved that in its bookstore cafe. Due to a combination of top-notch events put on by literary maven Amanda Bullock, a killer cafe where a few Flavorwire editors have been known to get their afternoon coffee fix, and a used-book selection that is always filled with new treasures, there is no better place to buy books — and feel good about doing it, since all profits go to helping people.
Magers & Quinn Booksellers, Minneapolis, MN
You can pretty much get whatever you want at the Twin Cities’ biggest indie, including new, used, rare, and just about any other kind of book you’d need to get through the city’s cold winter.
Guide To Kulchur, Cleveland, OH
The indie-lit heartbeat of Cleveland, Guide to Kulchur sells all sort of magazines, chapbooks, and books, but also serves as a co-op workspace, and hosts events. Don’t you wish there was a place like this in every town?
Powell’s, Portland, OR
You can’t have a conversation about America’s great indies without mentioning Portland’s finest, because this “City of Books” might very well be one of the — if not the — biggest bookstore on the planet. They literally have everything, and if by some weird chance they don’t have what you’re looking for, rest assured that they can find it.
Blue Bicycle Books, Charleston, SC
This adorable shop has plenty of Southern charm and plenty of used and rare books, but it is Blue Bicycle’s devotion to books about the surrounding area that makes this place so great.
D.G. Willis Books, La Jolla, CA
We could talk at length about this laid-back store’s great selection, but we’re just going to go ahead and point you to its YouTube page that features videos from past appearances by Norman Mailer, Maureen Dowd,Gore Vidal, Christopher Hitchens, Allen Ginsberg Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Gary Snyder, and many others.
Commonwealth Books, Boston, MA
This Boston used bookstore is everything you’d expect from a distinguished Beantown shop, with leather chairs, a (fireless) fireplace, lots of dusty old hardcovers, and a really great cat. We suggest checking out both locations, but stop by the Downtown Crossing one first.
Wild Iris, Gainesville, FL
It is somewhat mind-blowing that a state as big as Florida could host only one feminist and LGBTQ bookstore, but if there only has to be one, we’re happy it’s this spot that carries everything from fiction to books on spiritualism.
Bear Pond Books, Montpelier, VT
Who wouldn’t want to live in Montpelier, shop on Main Street, and stop in to this amazing store that’s been around since the early ’70s and features something called “Flannel Fridays”? You get 20% off your purchase if you wear flannel! That’s amazing.
Tattered Cover, Denver, CO
Going strong since 1971, Tattered Cover has been growing and growing into not only the biggest indie in Colorado, but one of the biggest in the country. With three locations, this mini-empire pretty much has the Centennial State on literary lockdown.
Longfellow Books, Portland, ME
Not just indie, but “fiercely independent.” People are obsessed with this Portland bookstore, which is the hub for local book nerds decked out in their L.L. Bean finest.
Heirloom Book Co., Charleston, SC
This is a Southern bookstore that sells vintage cookbooks. What else do you need to know?
Community Bookstore, Brooklyn, NY
Located in the heart of bookish Brooklyn, Community has positioned itself as the local spot that every serious reader has to visit at least once a week, whether it’s to pick out the newest release, find a NYRB Classics or Dalkey Archives title (they’ve got them all), check out one of the stellar events they throw, or just to pay respect to the king of Brooklyn bookstore cats, Tiny.
Green Apple Books, San Francisco, CA
While some places might have more notoriety, Green Apple really is the quintessential San Francisco bookstore. With an always-stellar selection of new and used books, you really need to set aside some time to visit this place when you’re in town.
Baldwin’s Book Barn, West Chester, PA
Normally we’d just recommend you visit Baldwin’s based on the above picture, but even without its adorable animal inhabitants, this five-story building is one of those places you must visit before you die. With thousands of books to pick from, this is pretty much bookworm heaven.
A town with a reputation for having the best coffee should also have the best bookstores, and Seattle’s Elliott Bay Book Company, which has been evolving for four decades, lives up to all expectations. Simply put: this place is temple to literary culture.
Powell’s, Chicago, IL
Even though everybody knows its Portland store, Powell’s started out in the Windy City, and the three Chicago locations (especially the one in Hyde Park) are all stocked to the ceiling with books just waiting for you to come buy them.
Brickbat Books, Philadelphia, PA
Darren Winston Bookseller, Sharon, CT
If your dream is to drive through New England seeking out the best and quaintest rare and used bookstores, this place — which is as clean and sleek as an art gallery — should be your first stop.
Bookends, Ridgewood, NJ
This Jersey indie pulls some serious weight in its state, and has hosted over 1000 authors for readings in the last 15 years. Truly New Jersey’s finest.
Skylight Books, Los Angeles, CA
When you think “Literary Los Angeles,” Skylight Books comes to mind along with Bukowski and Fante, and considering they’ve only been in business since 1996, that’s saying a lot. But Skylight is the perfect meeting of substance and style that all bookstores should aspire to, and that’s why this is one of America’s greatest bookstores.