Independent Bookstores for Your Summer Road-Tripping (Part 1)

Embarrassingly, I must admit I snapped this pic(ture) in front of a Barnes & Noble during a previous road trip...
Embarrassingly, I must admit I snapped this pic(ture) in front of a Barnes & Noble during a previous road trip…

Just like Richard Gere’s character in the movie Pretty Woman misses metal keys that fit into locks, I miss independent bookstores. Don’t you? I’m not saying that big-chain bookstores are evil. But unless I’m mistaken, Border’s is no more, which means Barnes and Noble and Books-A-Million are the last boxy bookstores standing (barely).

Book sections in retail establishments such as Target, Walmart, and Costco just aren’t diverse enough to satisfy that true book-experience craving. Clinically searching for books on Amazon (and then ordering them) saves time, but it’s not my idea of a good time.

That’s why you should add “must find and experience an independent bookstore” to your list of things to accomplish whilst vacationing this summer. Here’s the literary 4-1-1 regarding selected East Coast venues to sample before visions of school buses dance through your head again:

Wicked Good Bookstore Opportunities Abound in Boston: I wish I had known about the following independent booksellers when visiting the Cambridge/Boston area last summer. If your summer itinerary includes this highly historical haven, read before you buy from any of these delightful bookstores:

Brookline Booksmith in Brookline (279 Harvard Street) had me at used-book cellar! Founded in 1961, Brookline Booksmith was originally called the Paperback Booksmith, and continues to be “dedicated to the fine art of browsing.”

The New England Mobile Book Fair (aka NEMBF, 82 Needham Street in Newton Highlands) is the largest independent bookseller in the New England area. Allegedly it’s the size of three football fields. The NEMBF motto/slogan is “I only came for one book.” Need I say anything more?

For a hipster’s literary paradise that offers great breakfast and snack selections, check out Trident Booksellers and Cafe in Boston (338 Newbury Street).

Just look for the giant pencil straddling the Brattle Book Shop’s door front to find one of the oldest and largest used bookstores in the Boston area (9 West Street, Boston proper, founded in 1851). This shop features “an outside sale lot, two floors of used books, and a third floor of rare and antique books.” Honey, I’m home!

If You Can’t Find the Book in New York City, It Doesn’t Exist: Bookstore fanatics in Manhattan were brought to tears back in April 2014 when the midtown Rizzoli Bookstore closed its doors for the last time. But independent NYC booksellers haven’t thrown in the bookmark just yet. Per this wonderful article in New York Magazine, these locations are thriving and surviving, with many of them in Brooklyn:

[Please note: While not detailed in the NYM article, these two independent bookstores are personal touchstones for me: The Strand in Greenwich Village (828 Broadway, corner of East 12th Street) and St. Mark’s Bookshop in the East Village (136 East Third Street).]

The McNally Jackson bookstore happily resides in Manhattan’s Nolita section (52 Prince St. near Mulberry Street). One thing founder and owner Sarah McNally insists upon is swapping display space for more shelf space to store approximately 65,000 volumes of great reading.

For true West Village funk and grit, let your feet do the walking over to Three Lives & Company (154 W. 10th Street). Dilapidated tin ceilings galore await you and your family…

The Greenlight Bookstore in Brooklyn (686 Fulton Street, Fort Greene section) is a more recent arrival that birthed itself by pursuing investors, loans, and a (fortuitous) break on the rent. How can you not love a bookstore that’s open every day (10 a.m. – 10 p.m.)?

PowerHouse Books (aka PowerHouse Arena) in the Dumbo section of Brooklyn (37 Main Street) is more than an independent bookstore. It’s also an art gallery and rental space for personal celebrations and corporate events. Party on, book and art lovers!

While in Brooklyn, don’t miss the opportunity to browse the shelves of this borough’s oldest continually operating bookseller, Community Bookstore.

Our independent-bookstore tour of Brooklyn turns its final page with BookCourt General Books in the Cobble Hill neighborhood (163 Court Street).

Philadelphia Is the City of Brotherly Bookstores: Shame on me (as a South Jersey resident) for discovering these fine bookstores for the first time! (I can see them from my window if I squint while casting my gaze across the Delaware River.) For those of you taking a staycation in the Philly area this summer, add a little literary latte to your weekends:

For a bookstore visit that has been compared to entering an amusement park, stop by Mostly Books in Philadelphia’s Queen Village neighborhood (529 Bainbridge Street).

Another Queen Village must-read is the venerable Brickbat Books (709 South 4th Street). While you will find some new releases mixed in with the used books, don’t overlook Brickbat’s rare editions.

Not far from Rittenhouse Square, the Joseph Fox Bookshop (1724 Sansom Street) stacks its books up to ceiling height, offering classic literature, many hardbacks, and a great kids’ section.

Cool trivia alert: The iconic Fred (Mister) Rogers and author James Michener helped the Farley family launch Farley’s Bookshop in New Hope (a suburb of Philadelphia–44 South Main Street), way back in 1967. This bookstore is quite proud of its relationships with many small-press publishers…

Jump on a Washington, D.C., Tour Bus and Visit These Bookish Monuments: This 2013 article via the In the Capital website offers a nice snapshot of the best independent and used bookstores “inside the Beltway.” I’ve selected the following bibliophile meccas for your consideration:

If you have time for only one D.C. bookstore, you must visit Books for America on Dupont Circle (1417 22nd Street, NW). A portion of the store’s profits helps supply books to organizations in need: schools, homeless shelters, and even prisons.

For wannabe politicians and lobbyists, you won’t find a better place to browse than Politics and Prose (5015 Connecticut Avenue, NW). In addition to selling the latest political tomes, this bookstore hosts both big-name book signings and community-centric poetry slams.

Other independent bookstores to peruse whilst visiting the Smithsonian museums, Arlington National Cemetery, the capital Capitol, Georgetown, and so on:


Obviously, this is an “East Coast” virtual tour of independent bookstores. Summer is a great time for road-tripping, but you can plan an enjoyable excursion almost any time of year. What region of the U.S. would y’all like me to tackle next for a future blog post? (FYI, Part 2 will continue downward from Washington, D.C.) With unlimited access to the Internets, I’m happy to be of service. Enjoy your bookish travels this summer!

Lori Shapiro is the owner of By All Writes LLC, a business-to-business (B2B) writing, editing, and research company in Marlton, New Jersey. She revels in shielding her clients from the pain of writing their own print and web marketing or educational copy. Please call Lori Shapiro at 856-810-9764 or email By All Writes LLC at  for a no-obligation project quote today!

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