A couple years ago, I decided my goal before turning 40 would be to visit 40 independent/used bookstores. A little bit after that I decided to start this blog to share my literary, travel, and learning adventures. What better place to put my “bookstores in a lifetime” list?
The only real parameters would be that the store wasn’t a large chain or a college campus bookstore. I included several from my younger years, but most of the places on this list have been visited in the past decade – probably the past five years, to be honest.
Why Visit Bookstores?
The truth is that I had no ulterior motive for visiting 40 bookstores. I’m not doing research so I can open my own bookstore in another forty years. I didn’t have any burning questions about bookstore atmosphere or offerings that I wanted to answer. In fact, I didn’t have a particular reason for the goal. I just enjoy visiting bookstores. There is a common bond of appreciating books and wanting to spread their availability far and wide, but otherwise bookstores look and smell and stock and celebrate the written word in myriad different ways.
Still, without an intentional focus, there are quite a few things that are good about visiting brick-and-mortar bookstores.
- Supporting local business is a great choice to make.
- Browsing is always better in an actual store. Store collections reflect the interests of the area. If I’m looking in different locations then I’m bound to find different books represented in non-fiction, memoir, how-to, etc.
- The option to scan. Online shopping does not do a suitable job in allowing a possible consumer to glance through the pages. When you go to a physical bookstore you can pick up the book, read the back, read the inside covers, read the table of contents, and then skim through the book – not just one pre-selected page. This allows you get a feel for the author’s style, to know whether the contents and the title match, and to decide if it meets your expectations.
- Creativity abounds. The best part of visiting these stores was knowing that I’d be walking into a space that I was pre-wired to love and discovering just how many ways there are to have “bookstore vibes.” There were posh stores, plain stores, glitzy, heady, fun, and so many more adjectives to throw around. Knowing bookworms and bookstores come in all shapes and sizes is a tribute to the reality that books come in all shapes and sizes and content and styles.
About My Bookstores in a Lifetime List
You’ll notice most of these bookstores appear in the mid-Atlantic region. I grew up in Virginia and now live in North Carolina so the region is highly represented on the list. I had plans to visit at least one new-to-me state (and thus new bookstores) in 2020, but we all know what happened with that year.
The hardest part about making a list of 40 bookstores is figuring out how to categorize them. In the end, the advice to “keep-it-simple” reigned supreme. These are at least 40 of the bookstores I have visited in the past 40 years organized by state (and one country!).
Fortunately, for grouping purposes, there were a small number of bookstores that I had visited over the years that are quite iconic and at this point are the only ones that I have visited in that state. To suggest that the one bookstore I visited in San Francisco is representative of California or the one that I visited in New York City is representative of New York is absurd. I made a separate, non-geographically-based category for this group and started the list there.
I started making notations next to several of them and quickly realized this post would be entirely too long if I did it for all forty. So, I’ve commented on the “iconic bookstores” and then picked a couple in various states to elaborate on. When possible, I’ve linked the bookstores with their websites.
- Why Visit Bookstores?
- About My Bookstores in a Lifetime List
- Iconic Bookstores (4)
- Washington, D.C. Bookstores (4)
- Virginia Bookstores (6)
- North Carolina Bookstores (15)
- Goldberry Books, Concord, NC
- Blue Ridge Books, Waynesville, NC
- Wall Street Books, Waynesville, NC
- Julia’s Café and Books, Charlotte, NC
- Emerald Isle Books & Toys, Charlotte, NC
- Malaprops Bookstore, Asheville, NC
- Read with Me, Raleigh, NC
- That’s Novel, Charlotte, NC
- The Grounds, Charlotte, NC
- Main Street Books, Davidson, NC
- Park Road Books, Charlotte, NC
- Book Buyers, Charlotte, NC
- Battery Park Book Exchange and Champagne Bar, Asheville, NC
- The Book Rack, Pineville, NC
- Island Bookstore, Outer Banks, NC
- Paperback Exchange, Kernersville, NC
- South Carolina Bookstores (5)
- Florida Bookstores (1)
- Louisiana Bookstores (4)
- Final Thoughts on my Bookstores in a Lifetime
- To Be Continued?
Iconic Bookstores (4)
Shakespeare and Co., Paris, France
My visit to Shakespeare and Company reaches back to my college days and my semester of study in Paris. From my memory, the store seemed to be stuffed with books – books on display tables, books on shelves, book outside, and books wherever books could be found. I purchased a copy in French of Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier, but since I knew nothing about it, and I was frequently distracted what with living in Paris and all, I didn’t get very far through it.
Rebecca probably wouldn’t be a favorite book of mine even now, but I have seen it several times on Instagram and my curiosity for reading it still simmers from time to time. It would just need to be in English at this point because whatever French language skills I had at that time are gone now. *sad face*
Strand Bookstore, New York City, NY
I loved Strand Bookstore. I loved riding the elevator to find the rare books. Browsing the entire bottom floor among the shelves and tables of books for sale was a treat. And, I loved the Hermione for President stickers and other bookish tchotchkes that cluttered the check-out space.
City Lights Books, San Francisco, CA
City Lights Books is fuzzy in my memory, but I remember the winding paths between books on a couple floors. My husband and I were navigating San Francisco and knew this was one bookish spot to explore. If I ever go back, I’ll be taking a list from Wayfaring Views of other bookstores to include in my travels!
Brattle Book Shop, Boston, MA
Though there are several bookstores in Boston that I want to see, we stopped by Brattle Book Shop on our most recent visit. Brattle Book Shop dates back to 1825! The large, yellow pencil above the door is your first visual indication that you’ve come to the right spot. The outdoor book displays are the second.
There is a unique ambiance to shopping outside beneath muraled brick walls in the middle of an otherwise bustling city. The inside is equally charming with levels and rows of amazing used books. I didn’t have nearly enough time to make it through the whole place! It is obvious how Brattle Book Shop has made the cut for almost 200 years!
Washington, D.C. Bookstores (4)
Busboys & Poets
Capitol Hill Books
Okay, Capitol Hill Books has all the markings of a Used Bookstore Extraordinaire. The stairs were sagging, duct tape held together some parts of the worn carpet (see photo), the stacks upstairs could have been actually holding up the roof. But, I wasn’t really paying attention because BOOKS!
On the lower floor is a central area with newer titles, and if you keep going then you’ll find more used book goodness. I found a few classics to add to my pile and snagged a couple pictures. Bookstores with humor are my favorites.
Kramers Books & Afterwords Café
Bridge Street Books
Bridge Street Books is in the Georgetown neighborhood. The owner was friendly and quite helpful to us in finding the books that we were looking for. It has a great selection. I spent most of my time upstairs and my husband wandered downstairs. Needless to say, we both found a couple winners to add to our piles.
Virginia Bookstores (6)
Daedalus, Charlottesville, VA
If you’re looking for authentic, used-bookstore vibes, then look no further. Daedalus Bookshop is stacked, packed, and crammed with books. Take a staircase upstairs or downstairs (watch the books piled on the steps) or spend an hour wandering the first floor. The first time that I visited the paper-pencil ledger system was in use and change was counted from a change-drawer in the front desk. The next time that I visited some of that seemed to have upgraded but not in any visible way other than when you pay. Plus, it’s in a University-town so the range and quality of books that you might find here is excellent!
New Dominion Bookshop, Charlottesville, VA
Book No Further, Roanoke, VA
Too Many Books, Roanoke, VA
Bookshop on the Avenue, Lynchburg, VA
Be prepared for a fair bit of snark on the signs in Bookshop on the Avenue (always a favorite vibe for me), but the owners are quite nice. A great assortment of used books and a really good selection of children’s books!
Make a week of it! If you stay in Lynchburg, VA, there are some great day-trips to take – including one to Roanoke, Va where you can visit the bookstores listed above!
Little Dickens, Lynchburg, VA
Don’t get too distracted by the toys 🙂 A great selection of new books is at the front. The used books are in the back. It’s remarkable how Little Dickens has created a “new store” vibe at the front of the store, and a noticeable “used bookstore” ambiance in the back. Kudos for that compilation.
North Carolina Bookstores (15)
Goldberry Books, Concord, NC
Goldberry Books is a recent addition to the Charlotte-area reading scene, and is my favorite bookstore so far that is close to us. The browsing section is spacious and anchored with a comfortable sitting space. They curate a solid selection of old and new literature, and everything is clearly labeled. Farther back is a middle-grade section and then a small room with bright lights and colors that welcomes the littlest readers into their own bookstore magic.
Blue Ridge Books, Waynesville, NC
Wall Street Books, Waynesville, NC
Julia’s Café and Books, Charlotte, NC
Julia’s Café and Books is connected to a Habitat for Humanity ReStore. Stop by, grab a cup of coffee, a new-to-you-book, and your next favorite reading chair while supporting a good cause. Win-win!
Emerald Isle Books & Toys, Charlotte, NC
Malaprops Bookstore, Asheville, NC
Read with Me, Raleigh, NC
Read with Me is a bookstore especially for kids. A big, welcoming window seat gives room to snuggle and read. Shelves of books line the walls inviting young readers of all ages to peruse.
That’s Novel, Charlotte, NC
The Grounds, Charlotte, NC
Located in the building for Mecklenburg Community Church, The Grounds Bookstore & Café caters to Christian books for all ages. Grab a coffee, sit and read in one of their ample sitting spaces. Double-check their hours before you go – they’re consistent, but a bit outside the norm.
Main Street Books, Davidson, NC
Park Road Books, Charlotte, NC
Book Buyers, Charlotte, NC
Battery Park Book Exchange and Champagne Bar, Asheville, NC
I visited the popular Battery Park Book Exchange and Champagne Bar during abbreviated service thanks to Covid-19 so I can’t speak much to the Champagne Bar part of the title. The menu did look good though and the outside seating area was full.
The inside is grand. The décor gives the impression of being in a Beauty and the Beast type library. Tall, dark shelves hold tomes and tomes of literature. Large tables under richly ornamented awnings suggest possible titles of interest. Seating is carefully arranged for conversations or isolated reading moments. The ambiance is worth a visit alone. (But also, check out the books!)
The Book Rack, Pineville, NC
Island Bookstore, Outer Banks, NC
Paperback Exchange, Kernersville, NC
The Paperback Exchange is an unassuming used bookstore situated in a brick building on a corner lot. This was my official 40th visit! It seemed appropriate, though not planned intentionally, to finish with a quiet, local bookstore instead of a flashier, hyped version. I love both, don’t get me wrong, but it is encouraging and fun to visit community-driven stores.
The section of classic literature in Paperback Exchange was well-stocked, and I found several Dover Thrift Classics in good condition to add to my growing collection. My girls spent most of their time petting and snuggling the bookstore cat. If you’re in the Kernersville area (I highly recommend visiting Körner’s Folly), check out the Paperback Exchange.
South Carolina Bookstores (5)
Buxton Books, Charleston, SC
Buxton Books was our meeting point for a great tour that my husband and I took while we were visiting Charleston, SC. (You can find details about our literary tour of Charleston here – including details about the tour.) The bookstore has a great selection of works by local authors and a good curation of new-releases.
Blue Bicycle Books, Charleston, SC
Pauline Books and Media, Charleston, SC
Pauline Books and Media did not show up on any of my searches for bookstores in Charleston, SC when I was planning our trip. So of course, when we walked by it on King Street, I wanted to take a look.
This bookstore is a Catholic bookstore with a large selection of books and gifts. I didn’t find the biography that I was looking for, but they had a considerable selection of books in various categories. Putting this here for anyone that might be interested!
Joe’s Place Bookstore, Greenville, SC
Sadly, this bookstore has closed.
The Village Bookseller, Mt. Pleasant, SC
We visited The Village Bookseller when we spent the day in Mt. Pleasant, SC – just outside of Charleston, SC. Neatly arranged rows, an assortment of bookish gifts, great books, a friendly staff, and a good children’s section made this a great addition to our trip!
Florida Bookstores (1)
Second Read Books, St. Augustine, FL
Louisiana Bookstores (4)
Beckham’s Bookshop, New Orleans, LA
Beckham’s Bookshop was one of the first that I visited when my mom and I visited New Orleans. There were some quirky organizational titles – I identified strongly with “Tall Books” – a rolling ladder on one wall of shelves, and an eclectic range of used book titles. It was a great start to our literary New Orleans visit!
Librairie Bookshop, New Orleans, LA
Sadly, this bookshop has closed.
Blue Cypress Books, New Orleans, LA
Faulkner House Books, New Orleans, LA
Faulkner House Books is a narrow, floor-to-ceiling, bookstore in New Orleans that gives an air of sophistication to the general bookstore vibe with a giant chandelier hanging from the middle of the ceiling. New books are carefully curated and displayed from floor to ceiling.
Final Thoughts on my Bookstores in a Lifetime
The best part of compiling a Bookstores of a Lifetime list is the bigger list that I’ve accumulated of bookstores that I still want to visit. It’s the gift that keeps giving.
I still have several North Carolina bookstores to visit. There’s one in Jacksonville, FL that my brother has recommended multiple times that I want to get to. I still have a list from my Texas travel plans. I know I missed a bunch in New York City and California. And I’ll always have my eye open for bookstores of all shapes, styles, and sizes as I travel.
A final word of caution. I’ve shared what I remember from whatever time in my life I visited each of these stores. In some cases, that has been many, many years. Things change. The store may not be open, may not be the same, or may no longer cater to book-lovers. If you do a little research and find that to be the case, I hope one of the other stores on the list will fill your interest in a bookstore visit.
To Be Continued?
Obviously, I hope that turning 40 is not the end of my life – or the end of visiting new bookstores. I’m looking forward to visiting more bookstores in the years to come, and I think visiting new cities will continue to include a look at what their literary scene includes.
Hopefully my bookstores of a lifetime will continue forward throughout the next part of my life. So what bookstores should I visit if I ever get to visit your neighborhood? Tell me where you live and the name of your favorite local bookstore – I’ll add it to my list! Or, if you’re a traveling bookstore enthusiast, what recommendations would you tell me are “must visit” spots?