The Best Bookstores Riot Readers Have Ever Been To

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What makes an excellent bookstore? Neat, easy-to-navigate-and-browse stacks? Piles of used books in no discernible order, inviting serendipity? A coffee shop? Overstuffed chairs? Anonymity, or helpful booksellers? Some magical, impossible combination of all of the above? We asked our readers to share their very favorite bookstores—check out the list of your answers below!


My all-time favorite bookstore was Mason’s Rare & Used Books which was in my hometown until about 1988. The owner moved east (because he had a theory that a lot of rare/old books hadn’t made it as far west as Indiana. He came back to Indiana about fifteen years later and I haunted his new used bookstore until he retired and closed up shop.

My currently-open favorite is now Books on the Square in Illinois. Three store fronts on the town square and tons of vintage mysteries–which are my weakness.

I have two favourites in Ottawa: Books on Beechwood, which is just wonderfully curated and organized (and has a scone cafe next door!), and Black Squirrel Books, which sells wonderful and current used books, has a cafe, with beer and cider, and a really great decor and atmosphere.

Trans-Allegheny Books in Parkersburg WV stands out as one of the best. It started life as a Carnegie library and was an imposing setting for losing many hours wandering around in the cast iron stacks, finding an armload of wonderful new friends to take home. Gone now, but definitely not forgotten.

Mysterious Galaxy in San Diego, CA! The staff is always helpful and love recommending books if you ask. Plus, it is a bookstore that focuses on the fantasy and sci-fi genres. So, that is a definite win in my book.

I love the Tattered Cover in LoDo in Denver. It’s a bookstore meant for browsing, with lots of nooks and crannies, comfortable chairs and a coffee shop. I could get lost in there for hours.

The Book Loft in Columbus, Ohio. Thirty-two winding rooms in a cozy brick building, and every inch of wall-space is covered by shelves. I never go in with a specific book in mind, because whatever I find as I wander is always better.

My favourite bookshops are two in The Netherlands, and one in my home country, Portugal. Van Piere, in Eindhoven, which is both a bookshop and a small café, is delightful, and the Dominicanen Bookstore in Maastricht used to be a church. In Portugal, I choose the beautiful Lello, located in Oporto.

My oddball favorite is John K. King Books in Detroit. It’s a massive 4-story used book warehouse that looks like a fire hazard and smells like a long abandoned library. But the staff knows EVERYTHING, and the selection of used books is crazy. It’s like every weird, brilliant book that was ever forgotten finds its way there. It’s too hot in the summer and you have to keep your coat on during the winter, but it’s the best place ever to lose a day just browsing. Couldn’t love it any more.

I may be biased, but my favorite bookstore is definitely my mother’s: Fair Isle Books (Washington Island, WI). It’s tiny, but the better to encourage careful curation of the sections. And the bookshop dog (a very fluffy golden retriever mix) is a definite plus. Also, once you find a good book, you’re on an island, so there’s plenty of pretty spots for you to get a start on reading it!

I like The Strand, Powell’s, and City Lights in the U.S. although any independent bookstore usually does the trick for me. In the UK Blackwell’s in Oxford is my happy place.

Foyles in Charing Cross, London. 5 floors jam-packed with books! Plus a cafe, and a highly knowledgeable, helpful staff.

The original Borders, when they were an independent bookstore in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Then they franchised, then bought out by the KMart Company and shortly after that went belly up. Also The Tattered Cover in Denver was great when we were there years ago.

Over Andover Used Books in Andover Vt but I’m biased. It was my used/antiquarian bookstore and closed several years ago but it was such a very special retreat from the world. And we had the most lovable bookstore cat, Poe – a black, fifteen-toed, one eyed sweetie who greeted everyone in the parking lot and escorted them inside. How I miss that place and my sweet Poe. After that, I would say Old #6 Depot in Henniker NH (hundreds of thousands of used books in great old barn and The Book Barn in Niantic CT (several buildings – so much fun)

WILD RUMPUS is Linden Hills, Minneapolis, MN, USA. It’s mainly a kids’ bookstore, but they have YA and some adult titles. And they can order anything. They have cats, Chickens, a tarantula, ferrets, birds, rats, and fish in the store. The cats and chickens roam all around the store and are very friendly. They have lots of author events and book clubs and other activities. I still shop there even though my kids are grown.

There’s one in Port Coquitlam BC called The Jolly Ole bookstore. Shelf after shelf and small alcoves full to the rafters with books of every kind. The books can be a bit pricey but I don’t mind paying a little more just to experience the atmosphere of this quaint little shop.

The Strand in NY. It was many years ago, but I’ll never forget what a thrill it was for me–I was a western Canadian prairie dweller. Reading the other posts is sad–so many readers have lost their favorite wonderful independent bookstore.

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