27 Indie Bookstores to Support Online in 2021
Let's get straight to it. These are some indies that go beyond the ones you hear about all the time, and they have some special offerings that'll help you pick out the right gift.
Look, sorry guys, but there isn’t enough room for everybody. And we had to set some standards. A lot of bookstores out there are awesome, but they don't offer the services people need to shop at the moment.
Shipping, at least in the U.S., needs to be available.
I also tried to pick shops where you could browse at least some of the collection online.
Let's do it.
They have a pretty incredible collection of rare, sometimes-expensive items that you’re not going to find anywhere else. Like a piece of letterhead signed by Harry Houdini, or a brick from the hospital where Harry Houdini died. And some non-Houdini stuff.
Not for everyone, but if you’ve got the cash, and you’ve got someone in your life who would truly appreciate a first edition, a piece of signed ephemera, or something along those lines, this is a collection you’ll want to look at. The collection's a good browse just for the hell of it.
They have their store cat front and center, and if you look through their used books, even with shipping, the prices are damn competitive. You can get signed books, too: David Sedaris, Aimee Bender, Chuck Palahniuk, Walter Mosley. AND you can build a wishlist here.
A great indie book/comics store, always a great stop in Chicago. They’re running a Custom Zine Package service this year. You pick a dollar amount ($25, $50, or $100), tell them what you’re looking for in general, and they pick out a set of zines for you. That shit’s super personal, and it’s so cool that someone’s still putting zines on shelf and has cracked the code for getting them to readers.
With a ton of great lists on the front page, including book lists for kids, this non-Manhattan bookstore boasts a nice collection of rare books as well.
One unique deal here, EVERYTHING is signed. Everything. And the prices on them are very reasonable. You'll find lots of newer books, signed, right at list price.
One of the beauties here is that the shop is also home to Lynn Canal Publishing, who put out a Best of Skagway, Alaska Police Blotter. Being from a medium-sized town, trust me, the police blotters in towns of this size are amazing. It’s like Nextdoor mixed with ID Channel mixed with a collection of all the dumbest shit your buddies did when they were a little too wasted. This kind of thing makes a great, unusual gift.
The Connecticut bookstore not only has an awesome selection and is totally adorable, they also offer an online quiz to connect you to your next book, AND you can even put some reading preferences in for someone else and set them up to receive a curated title every month. Changing the game!
The western-most bookstore in the U.S. (take THAT, Cape Alava, Washington), Talk Story is a great community resource, they have a ton of categories that'll help you pick gifts, AND they not only have a bookstore cat, they have a Pusheen-esque version of her that’s just dynamite.
They've got a great small press section, perfect for finding something that even a big reader has never heard of.
Featuring Stump the Bookseller, where people list plots to books they can’t find and others try to come up with the titles. Lots of closed cases, and LOTS of new ones every day. It's a book sleuth's dream.
Don't know what to get someone? Or maybe what YOU want? Try a Surprise Me! bag?
Another thing this store does well, you can browse based on a custom price range. So you don’t have to torture yourself looking at things you could never afford in a million, billion years.
A great store, a Jersey landmark, this is one that needs to survive. They've always got a great collection on eBay, and don't miss the Git 'Em Spotlight for the occasional great deal on one-of-a-kind stuff.
With custom mixes BASED ON THE STORE'S CATS, you can spend as little as $10 to get a set of curated books. They also clued me into a pretty great list of Indiana bookstores you might want to check out.
Let’s just look at some of the categories you can browse on their site:
Art Books: Lowbrow/Outsider
Books For Strange Children
Society: Freaks & Sideshows
Also, it’s the store where you can send John Waters fanmail. I mean, c’mon. Check out the Atomic Canon for some good options for the book weirdo in your life.
I'm worried that bar culture won't survive the pandemic. I think the best shot we’ve got is supporting bars one way or another, and one way to do it from your couch is to buy books from a bookstore that also has a bar.
Also, like several indies, you can buy digital audiobooks from Spotty Dog via libro.fm.
Look, I don't really understand occult bookstores, but this one has a pretty big collection, and the website is hard to make sense of, which, to me, are the signals of a solid collection of occult books.
Look, face it, maybe you want to buy the newest capital-L literary book for your grandpa, but he wants a damn mystery. Mysterious Bookshop has some exclusive titles from some HUGE authors that you won't find anywhere else, and they've got a great gift guide.
There are SO MANY of these great little bookstores around the country, and I'm so glad Dagonfly has online purchasing optons. Northeast Iowa ain't a fun place in the winter, and it'll be a lot sadder if they lose Dragonfly.
Like a lot of good bookstores, Klindt's has a ghost. Where are the ghosts gonna go if these shops close down?
Klindt's also offer local delivery service, which I’m guessing most of you won’t be able to use, but consider: This is a pretty amazing service for the locals. People who can't get out can really get a lot out of this.
Not only do they have great books in print, they have ebooks, audio, and you can even watch films with 30% of ticket prices going to the store. Innovation is the name of the game, and we should reward everyone doing it.
Part of the 826 organization, this store teaches writing classes and gives kids and teens the chance to see themselves as authors. Buying here helps keep the program alive.
Imagine trying to make it as a bookstore in Vegas. A place that sells BOOKS in LAS VEGAS. That's a tough proposition in the best of times, which these ain't.
Another great beer/books pairing, and this is one you want to get to post-pandemic. Don't let it slip away.
Browsing is one of the most-missed parts of bookstore shopping, but Annie Bloom's provides an updated, online version of their Staff Picks table that's the next-best thing.
Colorado has been moved up the ladder to a red COVID status, which means Old Firehouse is completely closed to the public at the moment. This is a HUGE DRAG during the holiday season. Please consider shopping here if you can.
Imagine you're in one of the most expensive cities ever created. And now you're trying to make it there as a bookstore. Yeah.
A Couple Other Book Lover Options
If you've got a comic book geek in your life, Houchen does some awesome hand-binding of individual issues. Ask your geeky chum before sending their books in, but this makes an awesome gift.
If you want to repair a book for someone, look into a book binding or restoration service. I like the look of Jay's in New Mexico. He'll go so far as to match fonts to create a new cover and binding that matches your original.
A Rundown of the Big Boys
Okay, you almost definitely know about these. If you don't have a good local store, and if you can't find what you're looking for, here are the big indies and a couple special things they have to offer.
Look...I know that some of us have our qualms with the ownership and relations to staff and everything. But let's look at our reality as reality: It's not a question of whether we'd prefer The Strand or a different version of The Strand. It's this version or Amazon.
They've got an INCREDIBLE set of subscriptions, broken out by book type. It's a lot more comprehensive than anything I've ever seen.
What can I say, this is my formative bookstore. It was more than an hour away, in the big city, and it's where I was able to find the great stuff I HAD to read. They have some pretty great recorded online events, like this one with Max Barry, you can catch free. Their Love Letters to Authors shows the spirit embodied by the store.
Book People has been good to a lot of indie authors. Check out their subscription options.
They've got new items and gifts available. Possibly the best gift is a staff guide to the city. Bookstore staff are usually great guides to big cities because they know how to have fun, and they're not goddamn billionaires.
A Last Plea: Buying Local
There's a kind of bookstore I love: The Shithole. You know the kind. Where the books are piled goddamn everywhere. They probably have a set of National Geographics that will never sell. They have a bookstore cat that cannot be touched. There's plywood out front because a car ran through the building...17 years ago.
I love this kind of bookstore. Deeply.
Browsing this sort of store is more treasure hunt than it is looking for a specific item. You won't find treasure, but the dream is there.
Don't let the dream die. If you have one of these bookstores nearby, shop there if you can.
If you can't, consider a store that's a little smaller. It's not easy to keep a bookstore afloat in a town of 20,000 people. This year, you can help keep books all over America. Please do.
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