5 Spiritual Bookstores for Discovery and Enlightenment

Header image via Paradise Found

One of the things I love about the arts is how ridiculously hierarchical they are. Is this art music or popular music? Fine art or street art? Literary fiction or genre fiction? Every single field in the arts has something its snobs turn their noses up at. And if you're like me, it may have taken some time to embrace the fact that you like that thing. Like a lot! Or maybe you continue to read your YA vampire dramas in secret. Your choice. In either case, enter the genre bookstore, your local, highly curated emporium of stuff you like. Today's edition: Spiritual Bookstores.

The first thing to know is a spiritual bookstore is a bookstore first and foremost. Like another favorite genre store, the comic book shop, there are other things to buy, but they should complement, not overshadow, the reading on offer. How many of you have walked into what looked like a perfectly good comic book store only to realize that it was a teenage nerd hangout for playing Dominion or Small World or whatever it is the kids are doing these days? Aargh! Turn tail and run. Crystals and psychic readings are the analog here. I love crystals, but they should be second on my mind after finding a clean copy of Paulo Coelho's The Alchemist. A perfect spiritual — or some say metaphysical — bookstore is an experience to walk into, delights the senses, and reminds you that despite a regular reading habit you have barely scratched the surface of human knowledge. Once again, you have to spend all your spare cash on books and cool stuff to expand your mind.

Here are a few recommended spots to try.

1. Paradise Found — Santa Barbara, CA

A personal favorite. Need an excuse to go to Santa Barbara, one of the best places in the world? Here you go. This shop is great for a number of reasons: a well-curated book selection, memorably friendly workers, a resident dog, a fantastic children's section, and interesting products made by local artisans. Need a handmade shamanic wand? Well, this is where I got mine. There is also a regular flow of high-profile authors giving readings and workshops

Paradise Found Website

2. Alchemy Arts — Chicago, IL

Billing itself as "The Most Complete Occult and Metaphysical Supply Store on the Face of the Earth," one can certainly expect to find plenty merch here, but it was my go-to spiritual bookstore for many years and I showed up for the books. Also the Goths. There is a resident cat everyone loves and many opportunities to learn about the dark arts. I always enjoyed the small-press publications and pentacle table cloths, which work for both rituals and everyday dining. This lovely old-timey video they produced on how to burn incense on charcoal warms my heart.

Alchemy Arts Website

Image via Boulderdowntown.com

3. Lighthouse Bookstore — Boulder, CO

Lighthouse is the secret spiritual bookstore located on the garden level of Boulder's Pearl Street Mall, right under the Ben and Jerry's. Once your mind is blown by the spiritual masters, you can come up for air with some Chocolate Cherry Garcia. A great place to find Buddhist and Yogic texts. Follow up your visit with some meditation at the Boulder Shambhala Center, and you're set.

Lighthouse Bookstore Website

4. New Moon — Kalamazoo, MI

My friends who live in Kalamazoo have nothing but wonderful things to say about this place. And they even have a spiritual bookstore! New Moon is a bookstore and self-described community center offering readings and workshops on everything from Reiki to mindfulness and yoga. There are full moon rituals and wheel group meetings and the whole bookstore looks like someone's house. It's as Midwest as a new age bookstore can possibly get. Can I stay there if I go visit?

New Moon Website

5. Alexandria II — Pasadena, CA

Walk too fast and you'll miss it, but Alexandria II is Lake Street's best asset. It's warm and inviting and has some of the loveliest employees you'll find in the industry. So helpful! This bookstore has a highly curated book selection that I love because I've found really interesting titles here not represented in general bookstores. My big book of herbal medicine traditions, for example. Where else was I going to get that?

Alexandria II Website

So, book friends, this list is obviously not exhaustive. East coast, where are you? It mostly follows my various hometowns because that's how we get attached to genre bookstores. We pass them on the street, look into the window, and something magical draws us in. All spiritual bookstores are not created equal, and everyone has their own favorite flavor. Personally, I love a resident dog, lesser-known spiritual texts drawing on ancient traditions, and high-quality merchandise made by local artisans. And some people want every single selection from Sylvia Browne's oeuvre and nothing more. How about you, readers? Tell me all about it in the comments!

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Stephanie Bonjack

Column by Stephanie Bonjack

Stephanie Bonjack is an academic librarian based in Boulder, Colorado. She teaches the relentless pursuit of information, and illuminates the path to discovery. She has presented at national and international library conferences, and is especially interested in how libraries evolve to serve the needs of 21st century patrons. When she’s not sleuthing in the stacks, she enjoys chasing her toddler across wide open spaces.

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Dino Parenti's picture
Dino Parenti from Los Angeles is reading Everything He Gets His Hands On June 5, 2017 - 7:38am

I'll sometimes walk into Alexandria II just to relax after a long day or a bad bout of whatever. It's a such a comforting space.

T.D. Brooking's picture
T.D. Brooking from California is reading Black Wings has my Angel by Elliott Chaze June 5, 2017 - 9:13pm

Just looking at the pictures, I can almost smell the boxes of incense and bottles of magical essential oils. My personal favorite is here in Encinitas: SoulScape. Hope you get to visit it some day!

Stephanie Bonjack's picture
Stephanie Bonjack from Boulder, CO is reading Portuguese Irregular Verbs by Alexander McCall Smith June 13, 2017 - 9:35am

T.D., Encinitas is definitely on my must-visit list!