Seven travel-worthy independent bookstores

7 Spectacular Places — By on November 8, 2010 at 5:21 pm
Elliott Bay Books in Seattle

Elliott Bay Books in Seattle.

Do you love bookstores? Do you enjoy wandering the aisles, fingering the titles that line the shelves, breathing in the scent of new books, and looking for unfamiliar treasures? Then you’ll enjoy this look at some of America’s most travel-worthy independent bookstores.

I know that many readers love their Kindles, and it’s true that Borders or Barnes & Noble are fine places to shop or hang out, but there is still something to be said for the thrill of strolling the aisles of a bookstore with a truly distinctive feel and personality. A bookstore that not only reflects the culture of its locale, but may even be a tourist destination in its own right. So let’s take a look at seven of the most popular and unique independent bookstores in the country.

City Lights Books – San Francisco, California

Located in San Francisco’s North Beach neighborhood, City Lights Bookstore was founded in the 1950s by the poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti and gained fame initially as a hangout for the literary lights of the Beat Generation, such as Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg. The store maintains a bit of a counterculture atmosphere, in keeping with its history and location. You can browse its collection while musing about the authors who once wandered the same aisles. While you’re in the area, stop in the nearby Beat Museum, or stroll Jack Kerouac Alley, where there are engraved poems on the walkway.

The Tattered Cover – Denver, Colorado

Nestled in the heart of the Rockies, The Tattered Cover is located in an old theater and is renowned for overstuffed chairs, a gas fireplace, and a coffeehouse in what was once the theater’s lobby. For a store that stocks more than 150,000 titles, the style is cozy and comforting. Book lovers are invited to relax as they browse this legendary Denver bookstore, which also claims to have a free special event nearly every day of the year.

Powell’s City of Books – Portland, Oregon

A million books, spread across more than 3500 sections and 68,000 square feet of space. Powells City of Books is one of the largest bookstores in the country, with color-coded maps guiding visitors through the maze of rooms. It’s also a distinctively Portland operation, located in an unassuming building on the outside and with new and used books sharing space on the shelves. One British traveler wrote: “The alternative America of Portland is epitomised by the presence of Powell’s City of Books, a must-see for anyone with even a passing interest in reading.”

Elliott Bay Book Company – Seattle, Washington

The Elliott Bay Book Company is a quintessentially Seattle book store, with brick-walled rooms and a popular café on site. It’s another store that can lay claim to more than 150,000 titles and a constant stream of author readings and book club events. The shop is located in Seattle’s historic Pioneer Square district, surrounded by a diverse collection of restaurants, galleries and retail stores.

The Strand – New York City

Like the other stores on this list, The Strand has a character that is emblematic of its city. In this case, large, busy and sprawling. The store boasts of having 18 miles of books. There are 2.5 million new, used and rare books in its collection, overseen by more than 200 employees. The Strand has been around for more than 80 years in its location at Broadway and 12th Street, during which time it has expanded from 4,000 to 55,000 square feet of space for its burgeoning book shelves.

Politics and Prose – Washington, D.C.

It’s a perfect name for a bookstore in a city that is consumed by politics. The Politics and Prose shop is already well known for being the site of many of the author readings that are broadcast on C-SPAN. But the store is also known for a great selection of books, numerous inviting and comfy chairs for reading, and a great café.

Harvard Bookstore – Cambridge, Massachusetts

It’s appropriate that the most academically oriented of these bookstores would be located down the street from Harvard University. But the Harvard Bookstore is about much more than intellectual topics, with a diverse collection of popular titles and a large assortment of used books in a bargain basement annex. It’s also a great place to begin a day of book shopping, as this is one of several bookstores that are located within a few blocks of each other in eclectic Harvard Square, including the Grolier Poetry Bookshop, the Globe Corner Travel Bookstore and the Harvard Coop.

There are many other interesting bookstores across the country. What else would you add to this list? And there are, of course, many fascinating bookstores around the world, which we’ll come back to in a future article.

Photo credit: Joe Mabel via Wikimedia Commons.

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