Barnes & Noble will always be there with a stack of bestsellers, and Half Price Books is likely to have the novel you’re looking for in a pinch. But for travelers, little will beat the act of stepping inside a small, local bookstore, being greeted by the owner and guided through the collection by an employee who actually loves literature as much as you do. Maybe it’s their independent spirit (reading, after all, is a form of freedom), or maybe it’s that they’re connected with local authors, but the independent bookstore manages to live on in an era of Kindles and chain resellers. So, if you're like us, and agree that a good trip deserves a good book, then just for you, here are 10 of our editors' favorite independently owned bookstores throughout the United States. Read on!
The Booksmith | San Francisco, Calif.
A colorful shop in the colorful Haight-Ashbury neighborhood of the San Francisco, The Booksmith draws locals and visitors alike in for the best in big-name literature sold by local-living lit junkies. With one of the nation’s best rosters of live readings and author events, special guests to the store have included David Foster Wallace, Emma Straub and many more. Plus, thanks to their oft-hosted “book-swap” events (usually based on a theme, customers bring in a used book and trade with other customers), this shop makes it possibly to increase your literary awareness without spending a dime. 1644 Haight St., San Francisco, Calif., 415.863.8688, www.booksmith.com
Elliott Bay Book Company | Seattle, Wash.
With a history 40 years strong, this bookseller excels at having new titles on the shelves faster than you can say Farrar, Strauss and Giroux. Contrary to some expectations, the move from its Pioneer Square location to its new home on Capitol Hill in 2010, a risk some thought might shutter the shop for good, worked to prove the power of this seller in the age of Amazon and e-books. 1521 Tenth Ave., Seattle, Wash., 206.624.6600, www.elliottbaybook.com
Harvard Book Store | Cambridge, Mass.
No, this shop doesn’t sell textbooks exclusively, nor does it require customers to show proof of their Ivy League allegiance. You don’t even need to solely look for “literature”—you can find anything from graphic novels to archived mystery paperbacks to books for the babes. Of course, there is plenty of Harvard loot—maps, guides and memorabilia—for visitors as well. If you’re staying in the area, don’t miss the chance to get your online-ordered books delivered by bicycle, or if you’re visiting the shop itself, the opportunity to have the “book-making robot” build your own bound copy of thousands of titles you’ve only seen online. 1256 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, Mass., 617.661.1515, www.harvard.com
Kramerbooks & Afterwords Café & Grill | Washington, D.C.
A bookstore and a coffee shop and a restaurant all in one? You’d better believe it. Between the drinks and the bites and the widespread collection of books, this D.C. shop (or should we call it café?) could keep you entertained and well fed for days. On weekends, you don’t even have to go home—the joint is open 24 hours on Fridays and Saturdays. Seriously, this spot serves countless purposes—including being a known pick-up spot for the literary-minded. A bookstore that can help your shelf and your love life? We’re on board. 1517 Connecticut Ave., Washington, D.C., 202.387.1400, www.kramers.com
Mercer Street Books & Records | New York, N.Y.
Promising almost any subject imaginable, Mercer Street Books stocks rare, out of print and used books in addition to some new titles. Don’t come here looking for easily digestible best-sellers; come looking for true Greenwich Village flavor, including authors that are esoteric, interesting, and as the shop proudly says, just plain weird. If the thrill of the hunt is something you respect, this is the store for you. 206 Mercer St., New York City, N.Y., 212.505.8615, www.mercerstreetbooks.com
Powell’s | Portland, Ore.
This book emporium has become synonymous with the free spirit of Portland as well as the power an independent supplier can wield in the Internet age. With their hands on titles the day—and sometimes even days before—new books are published, Powells.com is a lit-lover’s sure-fire way to get that read they want. The brick and mortar store, Powell’s City of Books, is built to impress as well—navigate the maze of shelves by picking up a map at the front, or simply wander the color-coded aisles to your heart’s content. 1005 W. Burnside St., Portland, Ore., 503.228.4651, www.powells.com
Skylight Books | Los Angeles, Calif.
Skylight Books is the epitome of L.A. weird, a place where it seems Weetzie Bat would spend her days in real life. Find zines thriving on the shelves as if the ‘90s never ended, graphic novels coming from big dogs like Marvel to the little guy from down the block. Best-sellers tend to towards pop-culture provocateur books, distorted pieces of fiction and titles the knowledgeable staff firmly believes in. Skylight Books is also host to numerous author events each month; for instance, Smith Henderson, Rebecca Rasmussen and Ariel Schrag are all slated to read this summer. 1818 N. Vermont Ave., Los Angeles, Calif., 323.660.1175, www.skylightbooks.com
Square Books | Oxford, Miss.
They may be a little shop in a (relatively) little town, but this bookshop has gained a big following and some big attention, including earning the title of “Bookstore of the Year” from Publisher’s Weekly in 2013. Located in Oxford, Miss., a town with some literary history of its own—it’s where William Faulkner called home—this bookshop has an over 30-year track record of excellence; its own radio show that invites authors in to read from their work; and even recommendations from author and Square Books regular John Grisham. 160 Courthouse Sq., Oxford, Miss., 662.236.2262, www.squarebooks.com
Strand Book Store | New York, N.Y.
The oldest bookstore on this list, Strand has been an NYC institution since 1927 and is the sole surviving shop from what was once New York’s “Book Row.” Don’t fret—it doesn’t look like this powerhouse is going anywhere anytime soon. The shop is massive, housing over 2.5 million (yes, million!) new, used and rare books that, put together, would extend some 18 miles. Plus, Strand has an impressive history of special author appearances with Patti Smith, James Franco, Junot Dias and David Sedaris all stopping by. Here’s to 87 more years of literature from Strand! 828 Broadway, New York City, N.Y., 212.473.1452, www.strandbooks.com
Women & Children First | Chicago, Ill.
Don’t worry guys—you’re welcome here as well. The shop, one of less than 10 independently owned feminist bookstores in the country, thrives on the idea that costumers of every race, sex and religion should "shop as independently as they think." To that end, the shop works hard to bring customers not only the best new titles in the literary scene, but smaller books that deserve greater attention as well, especially those created by women writers. The Andersonville storefront also holds regular book clubs for all interest groups, author readings and writing workshops to encourage customers to become contributors in their own right. 5233 N. Clark St., Chicago, Ill., 773.769.9299, www.womenandchildrenfirst.com