In this day and age where kindles have replaced paper backs and online reigns supreme, bookstores are seemingly becoming a thing of the past. With a constant struggle to compete with online bulk suppliers like Amazon, bookstores have almost become like record stores – few and far between. Yet there’s a certain romance in the history of bookstores and that’s perhaps the single thing (other than the books themselves) that keeps people coming back. If you consider yourself a bibliophile (a lover of great books), take a look at some of the world’s bestsellers – those bookstores that inspire with their history and grandeur, and the ones that keep their doors open purely on their passion for books and love of the book lovers themselves.
THE LAST BOOKSTORE LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA
From humble beginnings in 2005 in a downtown LA loft, The Last Bookstore is now California’s largest new and used book and record store and the world’s largest independent bookstore. Back then the name was chosen with irony, but it seems with each passing day as physical bookstores die out, the name is ever so fitting. Today, The Last Bookstore has become an institution in California, with its owner Josh Spencer having created a home away from home for a lot of customers. Watch the award winning documentary on The Last Bookstore HERE where owner Josh Spencer details his passion for used books, from finding repressed love letters in the middle of them, to wads of cash hidden inside.
THE LAST BOOKSTORE LA | 453 S Spring St, Los Angeles, CA 90013, USA
*The Last Bookstore images via Vogue Living (top left and right) and The Last Bookstore.
SHAKESPEARE AND COMPANY, PARIS, FRANCE
For more than half a century, Shakespeare and Company has been a refuge for penniless authors, offering them food and a bed as long as they read one book a day. There are books everywhere you turn and countless stories to be told, most of them about the store’s history and its customers. Hemingway was a regular and writes about it in his memoir A Moveable Feast, Henry Miller spent time reading and eating there, and Anaïs Nin left her will under the store owner’s bed. This bookstore is a warren for bibliophiles, attracting thousands of customers through its doors over the years. There are written quotes painted across walls and stairways, a romantic reminder and ode to the store’s namesake. The unspoken rule of passing time here means that browsers don’t just pay and go, they browse and they read.
SHAKESPEARE AND COMPANY | 37 Rue de la Bûcherie, 75005 Paris, France
*Shakespeare and Company images via Lamano Magazine (top left), Vanity Fair (top right) and Hunter and Bligh.
ATLANTIS BOOKS, SANTORINI, GREECE
In 2002, a couple of American college juniors travelling in Santorini had a wild, wine-fueled idea to open an independent bookstore in Greece. Thus, the Atlantis Books began. One of it’s founders, Craig Walzer, had in fact spent a summer in Paris and was caught up and inspired by the scene of the iconic Shakespeare and Company bookstore. He spent his days teaching English in and browsing the aisles of the bookstore whilst taking in the eccentricity of its customers. It was his experience here, paired with that drunken evening in Santorini that is said to be the inspiration behind Atlantis Books, an enchanting bookstore that any traveller would hope to stumble upon. This two room rabbit warren sits opposite the old town hall, beyond a low wall painted with a mural of books and down a small staircase. Above the bookstore is a terrace that overlooks the glorious Agean Sea, offering the perfect spot to soak in the sun and devoir a good book.
ATLANTIS BOOKS | Nomikos Street, Oía 847 02, Greece
*Atlantis Books images via Atlantis Books.
JOHN K. KING USED & RARE BOOKS, MICHIGAN, UNITED STATES
It was a school counsellor that encouraged owner John K. King to pursue his passion of buying and selling used books, and so as a teenager back in 1965, John K. King began trading books. He owned several stores before settling at the current location in Michigan, a former glove factory. Today, the store occupies each of the four floors, filling and overflowing with books, and has recently taken on the neighbouring building to make way for car space and an office. Amongst the used books has been some rare finds over the years, including a signed presentation from the junior senator from Massachusetts, one John F. Kennedy and original photos of Mark Twain which literally fell out of a Twain bio one day. With over a million books in stock, 12 employees, 2 dogs and a canary, John K. King Used and Rare Books in Detroit has become an institution in its own right.
JOHN K. KING USED & RARE BOOKS | 901 W Lafayette Blvd, Detroit, MI 48226, USA
*John K King images via Bond St, Club Narwhal and Afar Media.
BARTER BOOKS, ALNWICK, ENGLAND
Converted from an old train station, Barter Books is more than a bookstore, offering open fires in Winter and coffee from its in house café ‘The Station Buffet’. Beyond its original origins of an old train station, Barter Books itself made headlines in 2001 when the owner discovered an old World War II poster with the slogan ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’. That simple phrase that was used as part of a series of home publicity posters back in 1939 has since become a universal sensation, replicated by a number of private companies and as a theme for hundreds of decorative products.
BARTER BOOKS | Alnwick Station, Wagon Way Rd, Alnwick NE66 2NP, UK
*Barter Books images via Max Res, Business Insider, Pining for the West and Travel Geeze.
SELEXYZ BOOKSTORE, MAASTRICHT, HOLLAND
This 700 year old former Dominican church has reinvented itself to a contemporary bookstore, housing thousands of books amongst Gothic architecture. The building that dates back to 1294 has seen various uses since its construction, from a warehouse through to a bicycle shed, through to today’s grandest bookstore. Once part of a friary knocked about over the centuries by various invading armies, this haunting building is now an absolute haven for book lovers. Featuring an oversized walk-in book case and an internal café, the Selexyz Bookstore in Holland is the perfect combination of history meeting modernity.
SELEXYZ BOOKSTORE | Dominikanerkerkstraat 1, 6211 CZ Maastricht, The Netherlands
*Selexyz Bookstore images via National Traveler.
COOK & BOOK, BRUSSELS, BELGIUM
This slightly macarbre looking bookstore in Brussels is more than just a bookstore. With an equal passion for food and books, Cook & Book offers guests the chance to dine in their in house restaurant whilst perusing the latest bestseller. Cook & Book is the size of a supermarket divided into eight different sections, from a children’s bookstore through to the rock and roll music section, guaranteed to whet the appetite of any music lover. Designed in an effort to give the space an identity, each section is like a prelude to the words tumbling from each book, from the graphitized wall introducing the art books, through to the all American airstream caravan that introduces the travel books.
COOK & BOOK | Place du Temps Libre 1, 1200 Woluwe-Saint-Lambert, Belgium
*Cook and Book images via The Culture Trip, Elco Merico and Flavorwire.
BART’S BOOKSTORE, CALIFORNIA, UNITED STATES
Bart’s Bookstore began in 1964 when owner Richard Bartinsdale’s own personal book collection had gotten so big that he decided to construct a series of book cases along the sidewalk so that passersby could peruse the titles. Back then, in lieu of a cash register, “Bart” left coffee cans on top of the bookcases where customers would leave their money, giving birth to Bart’s world famous tradition of selling books via the honour system. Today, Bart’s Bookstore is still built from rows of bookshelves on that Californian sidewalk, making it the largest outdoor bookstore in the world. Nearly half a century after its inception, Bart’s Books continues to attract locals and tourists alike and has since become a popular Californian institution.
BART’S BOOKSTORE | 302 W Matilija St, Ojai, CA 93023, USA
*Bart’s Bookstore image via Bart’s Books and Afar.
LIBRERIA ACQUA ALTA, VENICE, ITALY
Libreria Acqua Alta literally translates into ‘library of high water’ which makes perfect sense given that the bookstore is perched on a canal in Venice and is prone to Venice’s Acqua Alta – flooding that happens every year. Everywhere you look there are books: in gondolas, in bathtubs and in boats, perhaps sealing them from the fate of yearly flooding. A true haven for any bibliophile or cat lover: the store’s staircase is literally made out of old encyclopedias precariously stacked on top of each other and the owner’s cats roam freely throughout the store.
LIBRERIA ACQUA ALTA | Calle Longa S. Maria Formosa, 5176/b, 30122 Castello, Venezia VE, Italy
*Libreria Acqua Alta images via Amusing Planet, Cookie Sound, Samolit and Sequel Magazine.
BRATTLE BOOKSHOP, BOSTON, UNITED STATES
Run by an owner whose first word was ‘book,’ Brattle Bookshop is one of America’s oldest and largest Antiquariun book stores. Operating since 1825, the Brattle Bookshop is housed in a three-story building in the heart of Downtown Boston, yet has previously seen seven locations in its lifetime. Surviving several misadventures such as a fire, a crane mishap and an almost closure, the Brattle Bookshop has stood the test of time. Today the store offers offers over 250,000 books, prints and rare, collectable items such as a first edition of The Great Gatsby inscribed by author F Scott Fitzgerald, “to the greatest living poet, T.S. Eliot” and annotated by Eliot. Brattle Bookshop is a favourite for travellers and locals alike, including a regular who has been coming to the store for over 50 years.
BRATTLE BOOKSHOP | 9 West St, Boston, MA 02111, USA
*Brattle Bookshop images via Atlas Obscura, Hunter and Bligh and Brattle Bookshop.