It’s no secret that we are big fans of books and independent bookstores. We long for the days that we can again freely wander the winding aisles of a bookstore browsing its treasures, venturing into the special collections section and, of course, petting the bookstore’s cat if there’s one.
Bookstores are an integral part of our community. More than shops, they are sites of cultural activity where conversations spark and connections are made and, now more than ever, it’s important to support them, especially since Covid restrictions have affected their in-person offerings. A few years ago, we profiled some of the most beautiful bookshops from around the world: stunning spaces worthy of the pages of a travel magazine transformed into book sanctuaries. This time, we’d like to pay tribute to the hidden gems, those neighbourhood shops made magnificent by the strong community they have built.
1. Massy Books, Vancouver
Proudly 100% Indigenous owned and operated, Massy Books has the largest Indigenous section within an operating storefront in Vancouver, on the traditional, ancestral, unceded, and occupied territory of the xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam), Sḵwx̱wú7mesh (Squamish), and sel̓íl̓witulh (Tsleil-Waututh) Nations. Tucked into the Chinatown neighbourhood, this inviting 1500-square-foot space with floor-to-ceiling bookshelves and industrial touches carries a mix of everything: new, used and rare, academic, plus the curious and unusual, and they even have a hidden bookshelf door (if you can find it!) that leads to a secret room housing the collectible and rare items section. Completing the bookstore are a performance space and art gallery that serve as community space where people gather to share conversation, connect and organize.
2. The Book Bus, Cincinnati
This charming mobile bookstore sells books from the bed of a vintage 1962 Volkswagen pickup truck. It was founded by Melanie Moore who, after 25 years of teaching in various inner-city schools across the country, rerouted her career to focus on inspiring a passion for reading by delivering the joy of owning books. But that’s not all – Melanie also has a passion for getting books into the hands of kids who need them most, and profits from the Book Bus are used to buy children’s books for schools in low-income areas to help build classroom libraries and give students the opportunity to experience the joy of reading for themselves.
3. La Librairie PTYX, Brussels
Founded in 2012 just a few steps from Place Flagey in Ixelles (a Brussels suburb), La Libraire PTYX is famed for its dictionary-esque façade featuring images and brief bios of some of the authors whose books are held within.
As an independent bookstore, La Librairie PTYX offers a wide variety of literature, with a focus on facilitating conversation and the exchanging of views. The bookstore often welcomes authors to hold talks and book signings, and it bills itself as a “library of meetings and exchanges.” In line with these ideals, La Librairie PTYX has an oft-updated blog with stories focusing on art, culture and the state of the independent bookstore.
4. Golden Hare Books, Edinburgh
This award-winning indie bookshop has one of the prettiest shopfronts on St. Stephen Street in Edinburgh’s elegant Stockbridge neighbourhood. The charming two-storey building houses an ever-changing collection of fiction and non-fiction for readers of all ages, thoughtfully curated by a team of passionate booksellers, but their colourful children’s section is particularly worth mentioning. In pre-Covid times Golden Hare had a calendar full of literary events including their own book group, spoken word night and bookbinding courses, as well as book launches and author signings. With social distancing and restrictions, they’ve found a way to adapt and have launched a virtual events program.
5. Ler Devagar, Lisbon
Ler Devagar is a bookshop (selling new and second-hand books), library, temporary exhibition gallery, permanent exhibition gallery, auditorium, music shop and restaurant, all under one roof! It started in 1999, in Bairro Alto, Lisbon, housed in the former National Lithography, and introduced a new concept of bookshops as a meeting place, a space for artistic expression and debating ideas. Over the years, its all-white double height space with a white bicycle sculpture suspended in mid-air has become a local icon.
Is there a charming independent bookshop in your town? Let us know in the comments! We’d love to virtually travel around the world from one bookstore to another until we can visit again.