Reports of the death of the independent bookstore have been gravely exaggerated, to paraphrase the old Mark Twain saying. As communities and proprietors know, these welcoming spots are much more than just places to buy something to read.
“When I walk into a local bookstore, it’s my way of connecting with and supporting my community,” says Ryan Raffaelli, an assistant professor in the Organizational Behavior Unit at Harvard Business School who studies technology reemergence, which is the science of mature industries reinventing themselves. “It’s a way for the consumers to reinforce a set of values that they see as important.”
Here are six unique bookstores perfectly poised to help you find your next favorite read.
Boston: Brattle Book Shop
With $1,000 to spend, you could fill a library or just pick up one very special first edition at this nearly 200-year-old shop. Brattle was founded in 1825 and is one of the oldest continuously operating bookstores in the country. Its creaky floorboards were very likely walked by Ralph Waldo Emerson and other members of the Massachusetts writers’ elite.
These days, under the guidance of Ken Gloss, whose family has owned the shop since 1949, Brattle is well known for an impressive inventory of more than 250,000 books, maps, prints, postcards, and ephemera. Collectors are drawn to the rare-book room for first editions and other treasures, while everyone from the Harvard Library to the FBI seeks Gloss for expert appraisals. The shop even has a podcast, covering a wide variety of topics to pique book lovers’ interest, from tracking down rare copies of the Bible to what it’s like to be an expert on Antiques Roadshow. 9 West St., Boston, 617.542.0210, brattlebookshop.com
Madison, CT: R.J. Julia Booksellers
There is always something going on at R.J. Julia. The shop hosts about 300 events a year, with readings by everyone from chefs and debut novelists to celebrity writers like Denis Leary and Chris Colfer (the former Glee star who is also a bestselling children’s author). A community hub for 28 years, the 10,000-square-foot store spreads over two floors and has its own café, but its reach goes even further. The shop’s Authors to Schools program brings touring writers and illustrators like R.L. Stine and Kate DiCamillo into schools all over Connecticut. Owner Roxanne Coady and her experienced staff— many of whom have been with the shop for a decade or more— pride themselves on putting “the right book in every hand,” as they’re fond of saying. 768 Boston Post Rd., 203.245.3959, rjjulia.com
Niantic, CT: The Book Barn
With about 400,000 gently used books spread over four locations in Niantic, The Book Barn is more experience than store. And this isn’t some dusty collection of unloved tomes. During the busy summer season, the shop purchases between 10,000 and 12,000 books a week, so turnover can be fast and furious. An information booth by the entrance to the main location provides directions to favorite subjects and authors, and even a brochure to guide readers through the towering stacks. Find rare out-of-print gems and bestsellers or just pet the cats roaming among the shelves and enjoy free coffee and donuts. Located just off I-95, about halfway between NewYork and Boston, the shops also host a slate of unique events, including a mural slam for young artists, a cat-rescue party, and a poetry reading and reception. Main location: 41 W. Main St., 860.739.5715, bookbarnniantic.com
Larchmont, NY: The Voracious Reader
Take a time out with the family at The Voracious Reader, a children’s bookstore that wants adults and kids to connect over books—and maybe a cup of tea or cocoa in their 20-seat café. Catering to every- one from infants (who have their own special Book Babies room) to tweens and teens (who can enjoy author panels and Friday book clubs with pizza), this destination store is entering its 11th year. In addition to bringing authors and illustrators to the community and to local schools, the store provides a place where customers create community outside of work/school and home. With kid-friendly shelving and a staff that knows how to engage even the most reluctant reader at story time, it’s an ideal spot for immersing young customers in the vibrant world of books. 1997 Palmer Ave., 914.630.4581, thevoraciousreader.com
Greenwich, CT: Diane’s Books
For 27 years, Diane Garrett has tracked down special selections for her 1,500-square-foot space, using her connections with publishers and a team of category specialists. She offers a broad selection of books for the whole family and delights in seeing patrons “graduate” from the kids’ section to adult novels, then bring in their own children. Customers become family, comparing her cozy, welcoming space to the bookstore in the movie You’ve Got Mail. Garrett also partners with the Greenwich Public Library to bring in authors like Walter Isaacson, who recently read from his bestseller Leonardo Da Vinci right before dashing off to Christie’s to witness the auction of the last privately held work by the great Renaissance artist. 8A Grigg St., 203.869.1515, dianesbooks.com
Katonah, NY: Little Joe’s Coffee & Books
With fair trade coffee, baked goods trucked up from Balthazar in NewYork, and a case full of homemade cookies, cozy Little Joe’s is a popular community gathering place—as well as a spot where readers can find a unique collection of carefully chosen books. Owners Pete and Gretchen Menzies pride themselves on books you might not find on a bestseller list but that will entice, perhaps launch a new hobby, or encourage exploration. Pete’s years of experience as a cook and gourmet-store owner mean he pays keen attention to food-related books, while Gretchen is a social worker with an obsession for children’s books. Mark Bittman stopped in for a reading last year, and every year Little Joe’s hosts a charitable event to support the American Cancer Society, with games and activities for the community that engage families while raising money. 25 Katonah Ave., 914.232.7278, joescb.com