19 of the World's Best Independent Bookstores

19 of the World's Best Independent Bookstores

Naysayers have been forecasting the death of the independent bookstore since at least the 1930s, when they thought cheap paperbacks would spell financial ruin for booksellers. Later in the 20th century, mall bookstores (like Waldenbooks) were supposed to kill off the indies. Then came the rise of box stores — but those are fading too.

Now with the prevalence of Amazon and ebooks, some people have it in their minds that independent bookstores are done for, again. Put simply, that's not true.

According to the American Booksellers Association, the number of independent bookstores has been steadily on the rise for the last few years, climbing from 1,651 locations in 2009 to 1,900 in 2012. Americans spent $684 million at bookstores in April alone, according to U.S. Census figures.

People love bookstores, and with good reason. There are some incredible independent booksellers across the country and around the world that make book browsing all the more fun. 

Whether you're shopping at your local indie store, popping into a famous bookstore while on vacation or traveling a great distance just to check out one destination bookstore in the middle of nowhere, there are plenty of booksellers for every need. Here's a tiny slice of the world's best and most interesting options. Who needs Amazon, anyway?

1. Dom Knigi, St. Petersburg, Russia


Image Credit: Dom Knigi

Located on Nevsky Prospekt, the main avenue of Russia's cultural capital, Dom Knigy, which opened in 1919, is a stunning monument to books. With three floors of shelves housed in a building with high domed ceilings, brightly tiled floors and all of the classic and modern Russian literature you could ever dream of, the building is a reminder of the grandeur and importance of the Russian literary tradition.

2. The Sisters Grimm, Bushnell, Neb.

There's a good chance you've never heard of Bushnell, Neb. (it's population is 124), but the Sisters Grimm, a 3-year-old bookshop in a converted barn, might be worth a detour on your next road trip. When else will you get to check out a local bookstore in a town that has fewer inhabitants than a typical commercial flight?

3. Cow Books, Tokyo, Japan

"Everything for the freedom" reads the sign in front of Tokyo's Cow Books, a used bookstore (and traveling bookmobile) in Japan's capital. Specializing in progressive politics, 20th-century social movements and first editions of forgotten modern authors, the store also features a selection of art and photography books.

4. John K. King Books, Detroit, Mich.

Occupying four stories of an abandoned glove factory in downtown Detroit, John K. King is a massive used and rare bookseller boasting 1 million titles, "give or take a dozen." 

5. Papercup, Beirut, Lebanon

Dismayed by the lack of a cozy bookstore in Beirut's Mar Mikhael neighborhood, owner Rania Naufal set up shop in 2009. Specializing in art and architecture books, the store also carries a diverse selection of local and international magazines, which can be perused while sitting in the store's cafe.

6. Amber Unicorn Books, Las Vegas, Nev.

Located near a Trader Joe's in a Las Vegas strip mall, the Amber Unicorn doesn't look especially promising from the outside. But when Bon Appetit called it one of the best cookbook stores in the country, they knew what they were talking about. Owners Lou and Myrna Donato have more than 16,000 cookbooks in stock, many of them rare and autographed.

7. Kid's Republic Picture Book Store, Beijing, China

The Chinese flagship store of Japanese children's book publisher Poplar, Kid's Republic is a visual marvel with inviting displays, lots of open playspace and plenty of imaginative kid-sized nooks in which to read.

8. Montague Bookmill, Montague, Mass.

Not too far from Amherst and Northampton, the Montague Bookmill isn't afraid to market itself honestly: "Books you don't need in a place you can't find." But the used bookstore, adjacent to a waterfall, draws crowds during the day from across New England for its extensive selection and its frequent music programming in the evenings.

9. Atlantis Books, Oia, Santorini

Currently celebrating its 10th anniversary, Atlantis Books was founded by an international group of travelers who loved the island of Santorini but rued its lack of a decent bookshop. Now in its second location, Atlantis survived the Greek economic collapse (with some help from an Indiegogo campaign) and has even added a small publishing arm.

10. Coalesce Books, Morro Bay, Calif.

"If you love it so much, why don't you marry it?"

You can't actually marry a bookshop, unfortunately, but in Morro Bay, Calif. ("the Gibraltar of the Pacific"), you can get married at a bookstore, which might be the next best thing. Coalesce sells new and used books, but they're also known for their garden wedding chapel.

11. Le Monte en l'Air, Paris, France

Paris is one of the world's great literary capitals, and while Shakespeare and Co. tends to get the most attention (at least from English-speaking readers), Le Monte en l'Air should not go unnoticed. The bookstore/gallery has an extensive selection of comics and literature; there's even a separate section of the store just for disturbing novels.

12. Dashwood Books, New York, N.Y.

New York is full of great bookstores, but one of the most distinctive is Dashwood Books, the city's only bookstore dedicated completely to photography. Shelves are arranged by the photographer's nationality, and they're filled with rare and out-of-print titles. In other words, you'll need to watch your time (and your money).

13. Kay Craddock Antiquarian Booksellers, Melbourne, Australia

Located in a Gothic Revival assembly hall, Kay Craddock is one of Australia's foremost used and rare book shops, with some titles dating back as far as the 15th century.

14. Country Bookshelf, Bozeman, Mont.

Montana has more bookstores per capita than any other state, and the largest indie store is Country Bookshelf, located in the state's fourth-largest city. Country Bookshelf is especially well known for their collection of regional titles (the current No. 1 in-store bestseller is a book of Yellowstone essays called Grizzlies on My Mind).

15. Tronsmo Bokhandel, Oslo, Norway

One of the few bookstores in Norway that isn't owned by one of the country's big publishers, Tronsmo began in 1973 as a radical bookstore selling international titles. At the time, they didn't have the needed license to sell books in Norwegian. They've grown considerably since then, and authors including Allen Ginsberg and Neil Gaiman have praised it over the years.

16. Atomic Books, Baltimore, Md.

An indie shop with serious Baltimore street cred — John Waters gets his fan mail delivered there — Atomic Books is a haven for comics lovers and, more recently, for beer and wine lovers. The record shop in the back of the store moved to a larger space next door, and it's been replaced with Eightbar, a tavern whose bar is covered with pages from Daniel Clowes comics.

17. Berkana, Madrid, Spain

While the number of gay and lesbian bookstores in the United States has declined sharply over the years — Giovanni's Room, the oldest, shut down in June — their European counterparts are still doing quite well. Berkana, Spain's first gay and lesbian bookstore, celebrated its 20th anniversary last year.

18. Boneshaker Books, Minneapolis, Minn.

Three and a half years old, this radical bookshop in Minneapolis rather quickly became the go-to-place for the city's queers, radicals and zinesters. Staffed entirely by volunteers, the store also sends books to prisoners. They're currently running an Indiegogo campaign to double their inventory.

19. Ada Books, Providence, R.I.

Although Rhode Island has the fewest number of bookstores in the country and the second-fewest per capita, it has a handful of gems. Two in particular surface head and shoulder above the rest: Cellar Stories for used books and Ada for new books, comics and literary magazines.