Whether it be escaping to a far-away land with intense battle scenes and addictive romance or delving deeper into a business topic you absolutely love and learning more about it, there’s no doubt that reading books is a hobby that welcomes any and all with wide, open arms.
Statistics have shown that on average, Americans read for around 20 to 30 minutes a day so it’s no wonder there are so many literary destinations across the country. Be it well-known big corporate chains, quirky independent stores, or libraries with shelves full of every topic imaginable, it’s no surprise that the US is the destination for book lovers.
Across history, access to reading – in fact, access to learning to read at all – was limited to those in the elite of society; in many ways, reading has (and still continues to be in some areas of the world) been an act of rebellion.
This was the case in the early years of America while it was still under the rule of the British Empire. It’s been shown time and time again that knowledge is power and reading has assisted millions of people with the power to fight against oppression and slavery.
In the US today, reading is encouraged for all people regardless of age, race, or background. It has never been easier to have access to books and to indulge in the joy of reading. So without further ado, let’s explore the top literary destinations available to bibliophiles in the US:
Age is Just a Number? The Oldest Bookstores and Libraries in the US
Not only the oldest in the US, but one of the oldest remaining in the entire world(!), the Moravian Book Shop resides in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.
Having opened in 1745 just four years after the city’s founding, it has been a staple in the state – and the country – since its grand opening (despite relocating for two years to Philadelphia).
Said to have at least 10,000 books and to take up space in four different buildings, it is every literature lover’s dream.
As for the oldest independent bookstore? Since Moravian joined Barnes and Noble, that leaves The Andover Bookstore in Andover, Massachusetts.
Also taking credit as the oldest continuously operating bookstore in the US, the store opened the year Abraham Lincoln himself was born – 1809.
The store has grown famous for its close-knit community feel, holding events such as midnight openings for popular books, a Where’s Waldo hunt throughout the area, and – of course – book clubs.
3. Marcus Books
David Ruggles founded the oldest Black-owned book shop in 1834 in New York City. After an advert for the Anti-Slavery Book Store was printed in May of that year, the shop stocked literature on the abolitionist movement and feminist publications.
Later, it expanded to have a reading room and lending library giving sanctuary to escaped slaves, and – in some cases – saving their lives.
While Ruggles’ bookshop is no longer open, that leaves Marcus Books to take the top spot for the oldest bookstore remaining open that specializes in African-American literature, history, and culture.
And though not exactly a bookstore, what is the oldest library in the US? The Sturgis Library in Barnstable county, Massachusetts is the “oldest building housing a public library in the United States with the building being constructed in 1644!
It provides materials, information, programs, services, and access to technology contributing to lifelong learning.
The oldest continually operating public library in the US is the Darby Free Library, which opened in 1743 with only 230 books. While time has taken its toll with some deterioration, many of those antique books can still be seen on display today.
The Bigger the Better? The Largest Bookstores in the US
Finding a tiny, cozy bookstore to explore is without a doubt one of life’s great pleasures, but what about finding one so big you could literally get lost in it?
A bookstore so huge that there’s no question they’ll have the book you’re looking for. So giant you could spend all day there? So enormous you are almost guaranteed to come out with triple the number of books you went in for?
Let’s take a look at the largest bookstores in the US:
Coming in at number one is Powell’s Bookstore. Based in Portland, Oregon, this store is an independent family-run business and happens to boast 68,000 square feet of booklovers’ joy!
Stocking new and used books and opening every day of the year, there’s no limit to what you can find in this store. It’s so big that not only is it the largest in the US, it may well be the most prominent physical bookstore in the world!
We’ve all heard the name, but have you been to the flagship New York store? Barnes and Noble’s Union Square bookstore comes in a close second place for the largest bookstore in the US with no less than 62,000 square feet of book glory.
Not just one of the largest physical stores, but also the largest bookstore on the internet, you could get lost for days in this maze of tales.
And finally, coming in a well-deserving third place is John K. King Used and Rare Books whose home is in Detroit, Michigan. Four floors jam-packed with books of all kinds.
With over a million books to choose from and not a computer to be found, this charming and quirky bookstore is a must-visit.
The owner of the bookstore is often seen directing traffic outside his store and helping people find a parking spot. You don’t see owners of a world-famous business doing that too often.
If not for the books, then for the incredible knowledge of the staff who seem to have an endless and impossibly accurate memory for each book in their possession. And if that isn’t enough, it’s regularly listed as being one of the most beautiful bookstores in the US!
One of a Kind? The Top Independent and Beautiful Bookstores in the US
Let’s be honest, there’s more to bookstores than just books, right? It’s the calm and quiet, the peace, the people even.
If you’re anything like me, you struggle walking past a bookstore and not going in, even if you have tonnes of books back home that you haven’t read yet, and even if you really can’t allow yourself to buy any more.
A bookstore is a serene place where you are surrounded by every possible situation imaginable and it can be the highlight of your day to just hang out in one for a while. While there are loads of corporate bookstores that can technically give you what you want, every book lover knows it’s the independent, beautiful ones that have a place in your heart. So, let’s find the top ones in the US:
Up first is Los Angeles’ The Last Bookstore. Complete with a room full of first editions and collectibles as well as the new books for sale equals an impressive 250,000 books available to buy, sell or trade!
It’s located in the Crocker Bank building and boasts impressive columns throughout the store. With a big focus on the community, this store often hosts literary and musical events and even has a section of the shop called ‘Labyrinth Above The Last Bookstore’ where there are over 100,000 books for sale for just $1!
Its old wooden bookshelves and archways made of books along with the entire feel of this place give such old academia vibes, and it’s a must-visit for all book lovers.
Next is Verbatim Books in San Diego; dealing in mostly second-hand books, this place just beckons you in with its incredible artwork on its outside wall and comfy chairs and plants everywhere inside.
Second-hand has never been so trendy and in this time of environmentalism, it’s a win-win!
It’s got everything from the classics through to zines but it’s the attitude of the owner that brings it to life. Do you know when you can just tell someone is passionate about what they do? That’s Justine. Go and check it out – you won’t regret it.
And to round out, it’s Philly AIDS Thrift! Based in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, this glorious and inclusive bookstore specialises in LGBTQ+ and Feminist literature and claims to be one of the oldest for that genre in the US!
With both new and second-hand books being sold here, it’s a cultural hub of love, acceptance, and reading. With more than 48,000 books available, it’s guaranteed you’ll find something you love and all for a good cause, too – Philly AIDS Thrift is a non-profit business and charity so not only do you get a book, you get to help other people, too, and what could be better than that?
Black is Beautiful! Top Black-Owned Bookstores in the US
Black and African-American people have a long and well-documented history in the US and their creativity, intelligence and power cannot be downplayed. This community has faced struggle and oppression (and still does!), but they’ve also achieved great feats.
They have produced beautiful art that deservedly sits at the top of music charts, cinema listings, and indeed, bookstores. Whether it be non-fiction political texts, sci-fi novels, or books filled with love and lust and romance, there’s only one place to buy them – from the best Black-owned bookstores in the US:
1. Semicolon Bookstore and Gallery
At the top spot is Semicolon Bookstore and Gallery in Chicago.
Danielle Mullen is not only the owner of this store, but also the founder of National Black Literacy Day (February 14th), and given the slogan is ‘Books. Art. Chill’. It encompasses everything you could possibly want from a bookstore!
If you’re passionate about the pursuit of knowledge, this is the place for you – that’s even in their mission statement. With campaigns to raise literacy rates as well as promoting self-published authors, this is definitely one to visit!
2. Mahogany Books
Next is MahoganyBooks which is a family-owned business in Washington, DC whose mission is to provide books for, by, and about the African Diaspora.
Founded by a couple whose passion for culture and community leads their every step, and with a vision to give people the tools they need to improve self-esteem and self-love, this place had to make the list! If you’re a lover of books and culture, this is the place to be!
3. Shop at MATTER
And to round off, it’s Shop at MATTER in Denver, Colorado. Consisting principally of academic and non-fiction books, this is the place to go if your love of reading is based on knowledge and information.
Also specializing in typography and design, this store is designed for ‘thinking persons’ and holds events and book clubs as well!
Indigenous Representation! Top Latinx- and Native American-Owned Bookstores in the US
The indigenous communities of the US are so important to the make-up of the country and the culture of today. With Hispanic Americans being the second fastest growing ethnic group in the US, you’d be truly missing out if you didn’t visit some of the Latinx-owned bookstores.
And with Native Americans being among the oldest ethnic groups living in the US, just think of all the culture and art that brings!
1. Tia Chucha’s Centro Cultural & Bookstore
Tía Chucha’s Centro Cultural & Bookstore is dedicated to the arts, literacy, and ancestral knowledge, and what a place! Until it opened – despite having 500,000 citizens – the area of Northeast San Fernando Valley in Los Angeles had no bookstore! Can you imagine?
Much more than a bookstore, it offers workshops and activities, so you won’t only come out with a book, but so much more!
2. Red Salmon Arts
Based in Austin, Texas, Red Salmon Arts is a bookstore like no other! Dedicated to the development and promotion of Chicana, Latinx, and Native American literature, this place is a cultural hub that can’t be missed.
Founded by a poet and committed to social justice, book lovers will adore the community feels of this place and no doubt come out of here packed full of information they didn’t know before – and what more could we ask of a bookstore?
3. Bird Cage Book Store and Mercantile
Among South Dakota’s finest is Bird Cage Book Store and Mercantile. Owned and run by Native Americans and concentrating on the Northern Plains Tribes, this literary destination is stacked full of titles dedicated to “bringing the written word to schools, communities, and homes”.
If you’re looking to broaden your knowledge of the history of America and the tribes that started it all, this is where you need to be! Book lovers will easily find their home here, so don’t miss out!
Looking for Four-Leaf Clovers? Here are the Top Rare/Antiquarian Bookstores in the US
Is there a better feeling than finally getting your hands on a rare book you’ve been trying to find for as long as you can remember? Especially if it was an unexpected find in a cute antiquarian bookstore!
Sometimes the best thing to do (in any situation) is to go and browse a bookshop, and it’s always the rare one where you find the needle in the haystack.
1. The Strand
The Strand in New York City could have been featured in this article several times already, it’s that good!
Among their 18 miles worth of books, there’s an incredible area called the Rare Book Room, and you’ll undoubtedly find items that will get you excited there! Whether it be first editions or collectibles, this has got to be on the visit list!
2. Raptis Rare Books
Next is Raptis Rare Books in Florida. This one definitely has a fancier feel to it if that’s what you enjoy in your search for books.
Specializing in working with private collectors and even helping them partner with institutions, this place means business! It even has signed copies! Definitely a top literary destination in the US!
3. Argosy Book Store
And the final bookstore on this list goes deservedly to Argosy Book Store in Manhattan whose specialty is in antique maps, the history of medicine and science, and Americana. Of course. How could we not include a bit of Americana on this list?
They are even the founding members of the Antiquarian Booksellers Association of America (ABAA)! Take a look next time you’re in town!
Alexandria Who? Top Libraries in the US
A book lover’s first home; their first love even! A library is one of the world’s most inclusive and accessible places (if open to all). No matter who you are, the library is there for you and welcomes you with open arms. Let’s see the best the US has to offer:
1. Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library
The Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library is one of the most picturesque libraries you will find.
Giving full dark academia vibes and even filtering the daylight to protect the old books, this is exactly what you expect from Yale University’s library.
2. Boston Public Library
Next is the US’s first free public library (a crucial aspect of any library!), the Boston Public Library. Along with the mountain of books it holds, it’s such a beautiful building, it was made a national historic landmark in 1986!
3. Library of Congress
And of course, we couldn’t leave this article without mentioning the Library of Congress!
Founded in 1800, it is the oldest federal cultural institution in the country and is recognized across the world. A complete wonder that is a true literary destination of the country!
The Best Hobby in the World
So, there it is; the complete guide to the best literary destinations in the US.
Whether it be for the beauty of the buildings, the history and knowledge they offer, the books themselves, or the community that comes with them, loving books and reading are one of the most rewarding hobbies a person can have.
It can take you across states, countries, and even universes if you read the right book! You now have a US bookstore checklist, so you best get going to tick them all off!
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