Famous owners. Cute shop dogs. Curated reading lists. Cool spaces. Which one will you visit first?
Bookstores are the heart and soul of a community – but of course, as a voracious reader and compulsive book buyer, I would say that. To borrow the phrase of a certain very famous reader, you don’t have to take my word for it…
Just trust the customers of these nine independent bookstores located in small cities around the country. It’s the local communities that keep these shops afloat (often on a tight budget!) and provide jobs for area book lovers. And the services and resources the bookstore provides in return are immeasurably important: book clubs, author events, storytimes and experts hand-picking the perfect books for any occasion. Here are nine independent bookstores throughout the U.S. that are cultural beacons of their communities and some of the best in the biz.
1. Foggy Pine Books
Indie bookstores don’t usually become nationally famous. But Foggy Pine Books in Boone, NC, shot to fame in February 2021 when Stephen Colbert featured the bookstore on his show. Colbert wanted to highlight small businesses that have struggled to stay open during the pandemic and Tom Hanks and Sam Elliot were on hand to plug the small but mighty bookshop in an adorable ad. If you need book recommendations, Foggy Pine Books has got you covered. It’s booklist central, covering topics as wide as graphic novels for adults, LGBTQ+ resources, and anti-racist reading lists for all ages. After satiating your curiosity at Foggy Pine Books, explore the mountain views in Boone. Its small city is tucked into the Blue Ridge Mountains, off the iconic Blue Ridge Parkway, and is home to Appalachian State University.
2. Parnassus Books
In 2010 and 2011, Nashville lost two of its main bookstores: the independent bookstore, Davis-Kidd, and the Borders shut down within six months of each other. So local author Ann Patchett rose to the occasion and opened a bookstore herself. Parnassus Books is the brainchild of Patchett and co-owner Karen Hayes, a veteran of the publishing industry. Located just up the street from Nashville’s iconic Bluebird Cafe, the store is home to several vibrant book clubs and an even more impressive array of bookshop dogs. Nashville may be better known for its music scene, but its literary scene deserves just as much credit for fueling the city creatively.
3. Books & Books @ The Studios Key West
Key West, FL
Can we nominate Judy Blume for sainthood? Not only is the young adult author the reason so many of us made it through our adolescence, but she also started up a nonprofit bookstore. Blume, her husband George Cooper and several other local writers, founded Books & Books in The Studios of Key West, an arts organization located inside a former Masonic temple. While there are other Books & Books locations throughout the U.S. and Grand Cayman, the Key West, FL location is a nonprofit and run mainly by volunteers. Not only is the bookstore a great place to buy Blume’s books for any youngsters in your life (or yourself!), you can also pick up art supplies for your next artistic endeavor.
4. Red Emma’s
Baltimore is a wellspring of social justice moments, so it’s no surprise that the city is home to Red Emma’s. This worker-owned bookstore and vegetarian cafe is a beloved institution that puts its sustainable and democratic values first. Named for the feminist socialist activist Emma Goldman, Red Emma’s sells commercially popular books from mainstream publishers but prioritizes books from smaller, independent presses as well. You can explore their robust reading lists on every subject imaginable here. While previously located near the Maryland Institute College of Art, the bookstore is opening a new permanent home in the Waverly/Abell neighborhood, east of Johns Hopkins University.
5. A Room of One’s Own
Readers know A Room of One’s Own as one of Virginia Woolf’s most powerful and best-known works. But Madisonites know A Room of One’s Own as their beloved, 5,500-sq-ft independent bookstore. This bookshop is proudly queer- and trans-owned and features a wide variety of inclusive children’s books about race, gender and family. The store also collects book donations for local organizations like the Wisconsin Books to Prisoners Project. A Room of One’s Own is located right off State Street, a popular shopping destination with thrift stores, coffee shops and restaurants.
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6. Faulkner House Books
New Orleans, LA
Truth be told, William Faulkner is not the usual reason most people are drawn to New Orleans (that would be the food, the music, the drinking, the architecture…). However, Faulkner, one of the greatest American authors, lived in New Orleans for a time. His literary legacy is preserved in Faulkner House Books, the former townhouse where he lived. The bookstore sells Southern literature, including works by Faulkner, and is beloved by tourists and locals alike. Faulkner House Books is located in the French Quarter on Pirates Alley, blocks away from the Mississippi River.
7. M.Judson Booksellers
Books, wine, cookies … what more do you need in life? M.Judson Booksellers is the indie bookshop in Greenville, SC, and it’s also home to Camilla Kitchen, a small cafe. M.Judson specializes in Southern literature, cookbooks, and children’s lit, while the cafe specializes in scones, cookies and “nostalgic treats.” The bookstore recommends a new book every day on their website, so if you’re at a loss for what to read, look there first. Stop by M.Judson after a walk through the serene and beautiful Falls Park on the Reedy.
8. Brick & Mortar Books
When Borders left Redmond, WA, the Ullom family took a leap of faith and opened up an indie bookstore themselves. Brick & Mortar Books is located in the Eastside neighborhood of Redmond (where they have lived for 20 years) in Redmond Town Center. Nearly half of the bookstore stock is geared towards children’s and young adult (YA) reading, which you can expect when one of the bookstore owners is a former schoolteacher.
9. Buffalo Street Books
Most bookstores have one or two owners. Buffalo Street Books, a cooperative bookstore up in the Finger Lakes region of New York, has over 900(!) owners. The co-op’s owners originally came together in 2011 to purchase the store’s location and this business model is still going strong; you can own a share of the bookstore yourself for $250, in fact. Buffalo Street Books is a committed anti-racist bookstore and also proudly pays its staff a living wage. You’ll find this unique bookstore in downtown Ithaca, around the corner from Moosewood, the city’s iconic vegetarian restaurant.