Early in our marriage, we established a rather old-married couple date night routine. We would go out to eat with the plan to go to a movie, but then, we would finish dinner and either have just missed the early movie or have an hour before the late. So, we would usually end up at the nearby Barnes and Noble, browsing new books and buying more than a movie admission worth of books. This routine changed over the years as we had children and took them to the children’s sections or read less with our busy schedules. However, as the kids got older, bookstores again populated our life as they grew their own taste in genres and were reading on their own. Of course, this was also the age of convenience and instant gratification so we fell back on Amazon purchases and ebooks.
However, this never felt fulfilling. I like the smell and feel of real books. I enjoyed checking out the blurbs and seeing what was on the new fiction shelves or seeing bookstore recommendations. So then Barnes and Noble and Half Price Books became a haven of respite to get away from everyone and the noise of life. I gravitated to these stores because they were close and the independents I had liked had gone out of business so I assumed it was a dying industry. When we started traveling, I discovered that independents are alive and thriving. In fact, I have learned that the number of new bookstores is up dramatically. Independent bookstores seem to be the new version of a town library, giving people a place to gather, have coffee, and create community.
We found wonderful bookstores like Underground Books in the small towns of Carrollton, GA and the famous Powell’s in Portland, OR. I even discovered that my hometown, Dallas, has a few. These bookstores offer a personal touch not found in chains or Amazon. The booksellers are all well-read and can make wonderful recommendations for each individual. They are usually thrilled you have chosen an indie and really open about indies (as they are known) information on other independents to visit. The selections are more curated, but they are happy to look for books if they don’t carry it. One store, Interbang in Dallas, even found an out-of-print book for me and offered to have it delivered.
Each bookstore has a unique personality, reflecting its community, the owner and their niche. Hills and Hamlet reflects its surroundings in the adorable community of Serenbe, a small upscale village with a Pleasantville-esque feel to it. Hills has a lovely selection of empowering and fun children’s books as well as interesting books on topics such as decorating and cooking. Their beautiful selection of vintage books and pamphlets are fascinating to read and lovely for decorating. They also stay up-to-date on trends important to their clientele with beautiful displays such as the area devoted Game of Thrones with a three dimensional book and merchandise or the one with smart books on nature and urban planning in keeping with a local conference happening that week and the main philosophy behind the town.
Its sister store (a husband and wife own the two stores), Underground Books is almost the opposite in personality. While they both specialize in rare books, this store, just off the historic downtown square of Carrollton, GA, is bursting with books – new, classics, and rare editions. It includes a comfy sofa and chairs for reading, lots of trendy book related merchandise, and an amazing arch made of books. It is a store where you feel instantly at home and want to stay to browse, read or talk books with Megan, the owner.
Parnassus Books, which is co-owned by author Ann Patchett, (who visits often and I unfortunately just missed), is a wonderful find in Nashville. It is located in a nondescript strip center. Its beautiful entrance and wide open space inside feels welcoming and encourages you to sit to read or attend an event. When I arrived, the bookseller greeted several people by name and was getting the update on one visitor’s recent trip. Her two children went immediately to the chess set in the middle of the room to start a game. In addition to a great selection of books, including a full wall of Ann’s books signed by the author, they also had a quirky back section where the office and restrooms were located. The walls were covered with dozens of book posters from classics and modern books.
The small Breckenridge area boasts three independent stores (on our visit, one was for sale so might be closing.) We have visited Next Page in Frisco several times during our ski trips. This small store on Main Street offers drinks, food, and even cocktails with a weekly Happy Hour. They have several events including a local man who plays guitars and encourages his audience to join in to sing. We enjoy getting a cup of hot chocolate, browsing the shelves, and enjoying the ambiance. A husband and wife team recently opened a new store, Breck Books, on Main Street in Breckenridge with a smart catalog of books. I was surprised to find a book I wanted as it was a few years old, and not surprisingly, a few that I didn’t know I needed but bought. Ole Man Berkins is a large used bookstore cluttered with books. The shelves have notes attached to outline what is on them, but you might have to scavenge around to make sure your book isn’t shelved elsewhere or in the area.
We did find in one pile at Ole Man Perkins a used but in perfect condition game of Trivial Pursuit. This version had questions that ranged from “easy” to hard pending your roll and it made for a fun family night game.
Denver has a motherload of independent bookstores including one that I look forward to visiting next time – Bookbar sounds like the perfect combination, a bookstore and wine bar so you can sip and read. It could be dangerous for my wallet though! We did visit the well-known Tattered Cover Book Store. This independent is one of the largest, with three locations. We made it to two including their flagship store on East Colfax in the historic Lowenstein Theatre. It is a beautiful building with three and half stories of wonderment. Its sunken middle has area for sitting as well as shelves of books and downstairs is a large area for events. With well labeled and organized wood shelves, quaint balcony areas you can reserve for study, and knowledgeable staff, it is a book lovers dream.
E Shaver, Booksellers in Savannah, GA brings history and books together. Located in the historic district, down the street from St. John the Baptist Cathedral and Flannery O’Connor’s childhood home, the store was formerly a the home of a female builder, built in 1842 and the area above the store is still a residence. This a delightful store is full of nooks and corners where you can find a great selection of books on Savannah and the South. It is also home to three resident cats, a phenomenon that many independent bookstores seem to have. There is even a list in the book, Bibliophile, of many of the store cats around the US.
The store also has a special corner devoted to favorite quotes. Anyone coming in the store can stop by the typewriter (they still exist!) and type up a quote to join the wall. While many bookstores offer tea or coffee, the Tea Room shares the space with E Shaver and offers a robust selection of teas. This independent tea shop is overseen by a delightful lady who has lived in the area for decades and is a tea savant. She sells cups of hot or iced tea, loose tea in at least a hundred flavors, and tea accompaniments. You can get a cuppa and browse the shop or sit in her little parlor.
A sentimental favorite is Interbang Books in Dallas, TX. Not only is it a lovely store hidden in a crowded strip center, but it has an incredible selection and very knowledgeable staff. I went there at Christmas and walked out with books for everyone on my list, thanks to Tom who clearly was the most well-read person I have met. Best of all, the recipients have loved all their selections. I was thrilled to learn that my hometown did still have independent bookstores!
Other bookstores of note include Main Street Books in St. Charles and Dog Ear Books in Russellville, AR. Just add pics
Events are a special element of independent bookstores. While I have sadly only made it to a couple, I check the calendar of the local stores where we are traveling to see if any interest me. Most are free or the price of the author’s book for book signings and readings. So you are giving yourself a double gift – a wonderful evening of entertainment and a book to read later. A few book events have a fee, but those are usually reserved for big selling author or special literary events. And many stores have book clubs which are open to anyone who has read the book. Or they offer local musicians a place to play and games for the young and young at heart.
This Saturday, April 27, 2019 is Independent Bookstore Day, a day where the indies celebrate with special events to encourage you to stop in. Or better yet, plan to go by and support your local independent bookstore by buying some new books – you will both be glad! And I recently learned about Libro.fm, an audio book app that lets you designate your favorite bookstore so you are purchasing the books from them so buying local. Choose one of these stores or your own favorite when you sign up, then start listening to your favorite book. On Saturday, Libro is also celebrating and giving away free audiobooks.
Bookstores have become a must-see in each new city we visit so let me know if I have missed your favorite and we will add it to our list!