Our Favorite Local Indie Bookstores

Here at EL, we celebrate small independent bookstores every single day

Bookstores are safe havens for readers. They offer quiet places to flip through novels, chances to meet your favorite authors, and opportunities to form community with people who might just love the same niche subject as you. I often find myself stopping by my favorite indie shop to splurge on new nonfiction or buy another set of notebooks. From readings to book clubs, and everything in between, independent bookstores are the heart of the literary world, and we are sharing our favorites.

Rough Draft Bar & Books in Kingston, New York

“Rough Draft is located in Kingston’s uptown neighborhood on the oldest intersection in America; the buildings on all four corners were built before the revolutionary war. Behind its stone facade, you’ll find one of the busiest businesses in town. Good luck finding a place to sit and work, but you can always find the latest releases, and a coffee (it’s open from 8am-8pm everyday, which is rare and special in these parts). In the summertime, their outdoor picnic tables are a great place to grab a happy hour beer and talk books.”—Halimah Marcus, executive director

Photo via Black Spring Books Instagram

Black Spring Books in Brooklyn, New York

“Everything about a visit to Black Spring Books feels like a discovery. It’s innocuous, fenced-in, and easy to miss on a quiet side street in Williamsburg. But once you find it, and step over the threshold and inside, it feels oddly familiar. Every reader has dreamt of this bookstore that doubles as a literary social club—piled floor to ceiling with vintage hardcovers and modern first editions—the sort of small, quiet oasis where you can curl up with a book you’ve never heard of, and be transported into a different era, while the bookstore’s cat slinks into your lap. Black Spring, named for Henry Miller’s short story collection, feels like it might very well be haunted by the ghost of Henry Miller, who grew up in the house next door. Black Spring Books was founded in 2021 by Russian-American poet Simona Blat. Stop by for a glass of wine, good conversation, and an even better book.”—Denne Michele Norris, editor-in-chief

Photo via Addison’s Instagram

Addison’s in Knoxville, Tennessee

“Going to Addison’s, in Knoxville’s Old City, feels like stepping inside the parlor of a wealthy and magnanimous old merchant. On the first floor, sunlight pours in through huge windows and glows off the old wooden floors. A chess set awaits players in a bright corner nook. The brick walls hold endless shelves of rare, gorgeous, and sometimes strange antiquarian books that make for charming gifts. In the center of the room, the long library table is a sweet spot to hang out and work. There’s also a delicious tea bar in the back. Downstairs, you’ll find more books, comfy chairs, and tables. A visit to Addison’s reminds me that books are more than just information-holders; they’re also beautiful, and often curious, physical objects.”—Kelly Luce, The Commuter editor

Photo via Yu & Me Books

Yu & Me Books in New York, New York

“Yu & Me Books is a jewel box of a bookstore/bar/cafe located in New York City’s Chinatown, specializing in literature by writers of color and immigrants. In addition to readings and a monthly book club, they host community events like open mic nights, clothing swaps, and potting classes. More than just a bookstore, Yu & Me is a community space for marginalized writers and readers in a working-class immigrant neighborhood that’s rapidly gentrifying.”—Jo Lou, books editor

Photo via Headhouse Books Instagram

Headhouse Books in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

“A cozy and comfortable space tucked into Philly’s old Headhouse Square. The area is packed with bars and restaurants and hosts one of the largest farmers’ markets in the city, but you can catch a breath and a great new release at this store. Big Five Blockbusters sit next to eclectic indie books underneath a beautiful tin roof.”—Alyssa Songsiridej, managing editor

Photo via Bird & Beckett Facebook

Bird & Beckett in San Francisco, California

“Bird & Beckett is easy to miss—it’s not in a hip neighborhood and it’s competing with historical San Francisco heavyweights like City Lights Bookstore. But it’s worth venturing into Glen Park to check out this underappreciated gem (and it’s literally one block from a BART station). The quarters are cozy, the books are new and used, and, if you stop by on a Friday or Saturday evening, they dim the store lights ‘so you can focus on the work of the best jazz talent the Bay Area has to offer.'”—Wynter Miller, associate editor

Brookline Booksmith in Brookline, Massachusetts

“Though I’ve lived in Boston for less than a year, I’ve been coming to Brookline Booksmith since I was a kid. I grew up in a suburban area where I had to travel roughly 30 minutes to my nearest bookstore, which was (what else but) a Barnes & Noble, and Brookline Booksmith was one of the first indies I’d ever encountered in my life. It was my first favorite bookstore, and was delighted to find myself living so close to it in my adult life. It’s adorable and well-curated, with tables full of a pretty amazing selection of new bargain books and a whole basement-level of used books too. Like all of the best bookstores, it’s the kind of space you can easily lose track of time in, collecting more and more books in your arms as you go.”—Katie Robinson, social media editor

Photo via Village Well

Village Well in Culver City, California

“On the corner of a bustling intersection in downtown Culver City, Village Well offers an escape and a tiny portal into a universe where lattes and literature take precedence. The bookstore-café is community-based and impact-driven—highlighting different political movements each season (currently: reproductive rights) along with an overall motto to feed both your mind and body. While students with laptops crowd around the community table or discuss the latest article in the LA Times, if you wander in at the right time, you may just stumble upon local author readings, activism educational panels, open mic nights, or an evening of board games.”—Kyla Walker, editorial intern

Photo via Yellow Dog Bookshop Instagram

Yellow Dog Bookshop in Columbia, Missouri

“Tucked along 9th street in downtown Columbia, Yellow Dog Bookshop is a cozy Mom n’ Pop bookstore that trades, sells, and buys used books. The selection is never exactly the same, so you can always expect to find something new and delightful. For the youngins, there is also a cozy kid’s nook in the back, complete with beautiful artwork along the walls. Take your selections to read at Peace Park, Alley A, or any of the nearby cafes. A true landmark among Columbia MO bookworms.”—Lisa Zhuang, editorial intern

Photo via Next Chapter Booksellers Instagram

Next Chapter Booksellers in Saint Paul, Minnesota

“Part of the draw towards moving to St Paul was the opportunity to venture to independent bookstores like Next Chapter Booksellers on Snelling Avenue. Located directly across from Macalester College, Next Chapter offers a unique amalgamation of manga, bestsellers, non-fiction, and sci-fi/fantasy, as well as plenty of stationary to scribble story ideas onto. It’s a small yet spacious place that hosts author events, book signings, poetry readings, and its manga and sci-fi/fantasy clubs. Last summer, I had the crazy idea to get married there (after hours!), and I’m still grateful to the gracious staff who helped my wife and I with the ceremony. In my post-wedding life, I often weave through stressed-out students and the multitude of people walking their dogs to dip into Next Chapter Booksellers to scour the shelves for books I’ve been meaning to read.”—Kristina Busch, editorial intern

Photo via Kew & Willow Books Instagram

Kew & Willow Books in Queens, New York and Word Up Bookstore & Community Bookshop in New York, New York

“The commonality between Kew & Willow and Word Up is the community-centered way both spaces operate. Kew & Willow is tucked into Lefferts Boulevard among many mom-and-pop longstanding spaces. Kew & Willow is few blocks from the local LIRR stop, and funny enough an area where the first Spider-man was filmed. As soon as you enter there’s a homey & cozy vibe that steers you through a clear pathway to tables with offerings from local writers to commemorative month/thematic recommendations, and some sweet tote bags towards the kids section where you can hear the happy squeals of kiddos picking their next favorite read. Word Up Bookstore has continually established itself as not just a bookstore but a community space (heck, it’s in the name), helping residents in the neighborhood gain access to literature and more awareness of what’s going on in the Washington Heights area, aiding patrons during the pandemic and in voting registration. The family atmosphere of Word Up gives off a Cheers vibe, where everyone knows your name. Staffed by volunteers and avid readers, the abundance of book offerings reveals not just the abundance of work by BIPOC, but also books that instill a love of learning more about how we can be better to one another and re-educate ourselves to rebuild a nation.” —Jennifer Baker, former contributing editor

Photo via The Lit. Bar Instagram

The Lit. Bar in Bronx, New York

“The Lit Bar was born of a severe lack of independent bookstores in the Bronx borough, and once the last Barnes & Noble at the Bay Plaza Mall closed in 2016, it became the proud one and only brick and mortar in the Bronx. It was opened back in 2019 by Bronx native Noëlle Santos, and has since then survived the pandemic and become a local gem! It features a cozy wine bar, and hosts space for community literary events, and prioritizes offering a diverse set of stories that appeal to a wide audience. It’s the perfect spot to chat with other book people while sipping a glass of wine or to take advantage of comfy seating to get started on a fresh new book.”—Nzinga Temu, former intern

Photo via Playground Annex

Playground Annex in Brooklyn, New York

“Playground Annex in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn prioritizes books by BIPOC and LGBTQ+ voices. They have a small but mighty curation, where you can find a new novel about queer love, a collection by one of your favorite poets, translated titles you haven’t heard of before, and everything in between! I’ve walked out of Playground with a sci-fi novel and a manga, and I always get merch when there’s a new drop since they make super cool and cozy apparel and often work with local, community-focused artists. In addition, they have a free library with a rotating collection. Also check out Playground Coffee Shop, which runs the Annex, to sit with your new book and a coffee!

*Note: I am a little biased, as Playground often hosts my reading series featuring writers of color called lactose intolerant—I would say that it’s the perfect space to have a reading!” -Ruth Minah Buchwald, former intern

Photo via Harvard Book Store Instagram

Harvard Book Store in Cambridge, Massachusetts

“When I first moved to the Cambridge area for graduate school, my favorite thing to do was go to Harvard Book Store and tuck myself into the back row at a reading—any reading, no matter if I knew the author or not. Their event series is still the best in town, but Harvard Book Store is my favorite for more than that, including a curbside pickup program that got me through the early days of COVID-19, a delightful used book section in the basement, and the most helpful booksellers I’ve ever met. It’s a Harvard Square landmark for a reason!”—Bekah Waalkes, former intern

Photo via The Bookshop Instagram

The Bookshop in Nashville, Tennessee

“Located in East Nashville, The Bookshop is a colorful and cozy 500-square-foot bookstore packed with books and connected to a local coffee shop. A true symbiotic relationship! The space is incredibly well curated with a wide selection of literary fiction, poetry, nonfiction, and bookish gifts. Every month, The Bookshop has a Blind Date With A Book and Lit Clique pick, which is often a title from an indie press. After years of being an out-of-state customer and visiting whenever I was in town, I permanently moved to Nashville in the summer of 2022 and started working at The Bookshop as a bookseller. It’s been such a treat to get an inside look at my favorite bookstore and contribute to staff picks, book clubs, and helping customers of all ages find the perfect read. If you are ever in Nashville, come say hi!”—Laura Schmitt, former intern

Unabridged Bookstore in Chicago, Illinois

“Unabridged has been around since November 1980, and has long held a reputation as Chicago’s go-to bookstore for LGBTQIA+ literature. It was a fixture of my childhood, too—I grew up around the corner, and spent most weekends curled up in one corner or another of the store. As I grew, the incredible staff recommendations helped guide my taste and introduced me to some of my favorite works of literature.”—Sophie Stein, former intern

Photo via Old Firehouse Books Instagram

Old Firehouse Books in Fort Collins, Colorado

“Located in the heart of Old Town, Old Firehouse Books is housed inside of, well, an old Fort Collins firehouse (the very same, allegedly, that inspired the design of the firehouse exterior featured in Disneyland’s Main Street, USA). A community staple since 2009, this charming bookstore features regular author events, book clubs, community gatherings, and a truly stellar book trade program. A reliable meeting spot for an absurdly high number of first dates for Colorado State University students, Old Firehouse Books also happens to be the largest independent bookstore in Northern Colorado.”—Chris Vanjonack, former intern

Photo via The Bookplate Facebook

The Bookplate in Chestertown, Maryland

“Nestled along the colonial-era brick streets of my Chesapeake Bay hometown is The Bookplate, an indie used book store offering up “fine books, fine art, and a cat.” It’s a charming social hub in a small, arts-loving community. Owner Tom Martin curates a robust selection of used books, including rare and signed volumes, and there are rooms full of fiction, children’s books, world history, poetry, and much more. Iconic store cat Keke enjoys crouching behind stacks of books as she prepares to hunt her toy mice, or napping on the sales log until the booksellers have to push her off to record a sale. The store hosts regular author readings and an annual poetry festival, and features a stunning collection of Portuguese pottery that is also worth checking out.”—Preety Sidhu, former marketing manager

More Like This

The Book Bike Bringing Free, Queer Books to Brooklyn

K. Kerimian started The Nonbinarian Bike as a way to fight book bans and spread queer joy through mutual aid

Oct 17 - Katie Robinson

Indie Booksellers Recommend 13 Books for 2023

We asked booksellers across the country what new and upcoming books they're most excited about

Apr 14 - Laura Schmitt
Thank You!