Mental Floss
BOOKS

16 Must-Visit Indie Bookstores Owned by Writers

Ellen Gutoskey
Books Are Magic, Emma Straub's beloved shop in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn.
Books Are Magic, Emma Straub's beloved shop in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn. / Michael Chin/Books Are Magic
facebooktwitterreddit

Considering that authors often feel most at home surrounded by books—which they love to talk about and share with others—it’s no surprise that some of them end up opening their own bookstores. Here are 16 must-visit indie shops owned by novelists, poets, and all other kinds of writers.

1. Books Are Magic // Brooklyn, New York

Michael Fusco-Straub and Emma Straub in their shop.
Michael Fusco-Straub and Emma Straub in their shop. / David Land/Books Are Magic

Snapping a photo in front of Books Are Magic’s charming mural has become a rite of passage for any bibliophile that sets foot in Brooklyn’s Cobble Hill neighborhood. The equally charming shop itself is owned by The Vacationers author Emma Straub and her husband Michael Fusco-Straub, who live nearby with their kids. The couple decided to open a bookstore after BookCourt, the neighborhood’s longtime indie bookstore—where Straub once worked and the family still frequented—closed in 2016. “A neighborhood without an independent bookstore is a body without a heart,” she wrote at the time. “And so we’re building a new heart.”

2. Parnassus Books // Nashville, Tennessee

Ann Patchett, author of The Dutch House, Commonwealth, and other novels, founded Parnassus Books in 2011 with former Random House sales representative Karen Hayes. In addition to books, the shop is home to a piano and five part-time dogs: Opie, Lavinia, Marlee, Barnabus, and Sparky.

3. Bel Canto Books // Long Beach, California

Patchett also inspired the creation of another bookstore: Bel Canto Books, which poet Jhoanna Belfer opened after hearing Patchett talk about her work in the bookselling business. The store, named after Patchett’s novel Bel Canto, began as a pop-up shop and book club in 2018. By the end of 2019, Belfer had quit her day job as a hospitality executive and found Bel Canto Books a more permanent home in a small business collective called The Hangout. Each month’s featured releases are centered around a theme, with a focus on works by underrepresented voices.

4. Bookends & Beginnings // Evanston, Illinois

Near Northwestern University is Bookends & Beginnings, founded by journalist and nonfiction writer Nina Barrett in 2014. Barrett recently opened a second location, within walking distance from the first, which is helping fill the void left when the neighborhood’s Barnes & Noble closed in May 2020. Bookends & Beginnings carries an impressive array of kids’ books in four dozen languages—thanks to Barrett’s husband’s expertise in international children’s literature—along with many more mainstream offerings for adults. According to the store’s website, patrons consider it “the speakeasy for books.”

5. The Raven Book Store // Lawrence, Kansas

The Raven Book Store has been a Lawrence mainstay since its foundation in 1987, and poet Danny Caine took over as owner in 2017. Some things have changed: The store moved to a new, larger location in 2021. Others haven’t: At its inception, the store specifically stocked mysteries, and it still boasts a considerable inventory of mystery titles today. Earlier this year, Caine lent money to seven employees so they could each purchase a 7 percent stake in the store from him. With 51 percent of the shares, Caine is still the majority owner (and general manager), but he’s now also fostering a future generation of indie bookstore owners.

6. An Unlikely Story // Plainville, Massachusetts

Jeff Kinney, author of the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series, christened his bookstore An Unlikely Story partly as a nod to his own unexpected career: He hadn’t originally intended the Wimpy Kid stories to be for kids. The name also alludes to the unlikely story of the site itself, which started out as a popular 19th-century general store and later morphed into a pharmacy, a tearoom, and more. Kinney co-owns An Unlikely Story with his wife, Julie, and the two have preserved the multipurpose nature of the space—there’s also a café and a whole second floor that you can book for community events.

7. Townie Books // Crested Butte, Colorado

Fiction writer and 2022 MacDowell Fellow Arvin Ramgoolam opened Townie Books with his wife, Danica, in 2011 after Crested Butte’s go-to used bookstore shuttered. The shop is attached to Rumors, a café the couple had founded two years earlier, which makes it an ideal spot for anyone who appreciates the unbeatable pairing of books and hot beverages. The owners are far from hands-off when it comes to day-to-day operations. “I’m the person holding court over the fourth cup of coffee, getting a laugh, and handselling a book the customer never planned on buying in the first place,” Ramgoolam told Desi Books.

8. Red Planet Books & Comics // Albuquerque, New Mexico

Lee Francis IV, a comic book writer and member of Laguna Pueblo, had so much fun spearheading the first Indigenous Comic Con in 2016 that he “wanted to create a space where we could continue the party all year round,” he told New Mexico Magazine. So the very next year, he and some collaborators opened the world’s first Native comic book shop. Red Planet Books & Comics also offers many other kinds of books by Native American authors.

9. Duende District // Washington, D.C.

Red Planet is currently playing host to a pop-up by Duende District, a mobile bookstore whose other two locations are both in Washington, D.C. Founded by poet and journalist Angela María Spring—who has years of experience managing and book-buying for other bookstores—Duende District offers diverse new releases in both English and Spanish.

10. Violet Valley Bookstore // Water Valley, Mississippi

To write her book The Lesbian South: Southern Feminists, The Women in Print Movement, and the Queer Literary Canon, Jaime Harker did seven years’ worth of research on queer writers and activists who established publishing companies and bookshops to amplify their voices. What she learned motivated her to continue the work, and in 2017, she opened her own shop to bring “feminist, queer, and multicultural books” to the small town of Water Valley and the South at large.

11. Nowhere Bookshop // San Antonio, Texas

Peep the crow (or raven?) and sea monster (or dragon?).
Peep the crow (or raven?) and sea monster (or dragon?). / Nowhere Bookshop

Jenny Lawson, known for her blog The Bloggess and memoirs like Furiously Happy, named her store Nowhere Bookshop for “that feeling you get when lost in a good book.” Lawson and her team have also dreamed up an especially amusing way to help you find your next great read—their “Blind Date With a Book” program, where you buy a book based only on its genre and a few sparse descriptors (e.g. “if you liked Manifest,” “fun cemeteries”).

12. Birchbark Books & Native Arts // Minneapolis, Minnesota

Louise Erdrich is the author of The Night Watchman, The Round House, and other novels; a member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa; and the owner of Birchbark Books & Native Arts. As its name suggests, the shop carries books—with a focus on Indigenous American titles—and plenty of artisanal goods, from quillwork and jewelry to birdhouses and dreamcatchers. The space is eco-friendly, made primarily from salvaged or recycled materials, and also kid-friendly, featuring a cozy “hobbit hole” for kids to read in while their parents browse.

13. The Listening Tree // Decatur, Georgia

Husband and wife Omar and Kimberly Finley had written one children’s book (A World of Our Own: The Beginning, a retelling of God’s creation of the world) and had begun the second in the series when they realized they couldn’t singlehandedly pen all the books they wanted to see in the market. Instead, they decided to improve the market from the inside: Their bookstore, The Listening Tree, specifically carries kids’ books with Black protagonists—everything from alphabet books for toddlers to teen bestsellers like Tomi Adeyemi’s Children Of Blood And Bone.

14. Books & Books @ The Studios of Key West // Key West, Florida

An interior shot of Blume and Cooper's bookish sanctuary.
An interior shot of Blume and Cooper's bookish sanctuary. / Ralph De Palma

The Key West branch of Mitchell Kaplan’s indie book chain Books & Books was founded by another husband-and-wife team: George Cooper and Judy Blume. It’s located in—and technically owned by—a nonprofit arts center called The Studios of Key West, and the bookstore itself is nonprofit, too. As for how involved the Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret author actually is in running the shop, the answer is very: According to her website, “There’s a good chance you’ll find Judy behind the register, or stocking books on the shelves.”

15. Uncle Bobbie's Coffee & Books // Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

In 2017, political analyst and author Marc Lamont Hill opened Uncle Bobbie’s Coffee & Books in Philadelphia’s Germantown neighborhood, a historically Black community whose antislavery beginnings date back to 17th-century Quakers. The shop’s namesake is Lamont Hill’s own uncle, who instilled in him an affinity for reading. As illustrated by its slogan—“Cool People. Dope Books. Great Coffee.”—Uncle Bobbie’s is just as much about togetherness as it is about literature. “We wanted to make a place where you actually like coming here,” Lamont Hill told Eater. “You’re going to get a great latte. You’re going to get an amazing slice of sweet potato pie. You’re going to be hand-sold a book. Those things matter.”

16. Beastly Books // Sante Fe, New Mexico

In 2013, several years after Santa Fe’s famed Jean Cocteau Cinema shut down, George R.R. Martin bought the property and got it up and running again. It became a popular spot for author events, too, and when the stacks of author-signed books began to overwhelm the theater lobby, Martin opened a bookstore next door. Beastly Books is named for Cocteau’s 1946 film Beauty and the Beast and the Ron Perlman-starring ’80s TV series of the same name that Martin wrote for. If you want signed copies of any A Song of Ice and Fire books, Beastly Books is where to get them.

facebooktwitterreddit