In an increasingly digital world, there are more and more sources who claim that bookstores are becoming obsolete. And indeed, many independent bookstores, and even some bookstore chains (anyone remember Borders?), have been forced to close their doors. But in spite of an unstable financial market, many independent bookstores have managed to create thriving, successful businesses - and a great deal of them are located in college towns. The following stores have defied the odds and created unique, inviting environments, and all of them are perfect for students who are looking for a quiet, cozy place to spend a few hours.
1. Buffalo Street Books (Ithaca, NY)
Located near both Cornell University and Ithaca College, Buffalo Street Books has been a noteworthy Ithaca establishment since the store first opened in 1981. In 2011 Buffalo was bought out by members of the community and is now owned cooperatively by a rotating board of directors, therefore protecting the store’s economic security. Store general manager Asha Sanaker says that the co-op arrangement has been extremely successful since, “a group of like-minded-folks can pool their resources and labor and start a worker’s cooperative that allows them to share the load,” and would, “encourage young people to consider that model,” in their own business exploits.
In addition to carrying a wide variety of books for adults and children, Buffalo Street Books also hosts a monthly book club at a local bar and has created a program called First Class, which delivers textbooks to the classrooms of Ithaca and Cornell students. They also offer a textbook buyout service, which again appeals to the large population of college students in their area. According to Sanaker, Buffalo Street also does, “a fair number of off-site events at [Ithaca College] and Cornell because the campus stores don’t really want to do that.”
2. Bookwoman (Austin, TX)
Bookwoman is a bookstore dedicated to feminist books, located in close proximity to the University of Texas at Austin, St. Edward’s University and Concordia University. It was opened in 1977 as The Common Woman Bookstore, and changed locations multiple times before settling into its current home in 2008. The store hosts Open Mics, poetry readings and a monthly book group. In addition to books the store also sells shirts, calendars, jewelry and artwork, and promotes the work of local Austin authors.
3. Pegasus Books (Berkeley, CA)
With two locations in Berkeley and one in Oakland, Pegasus is the perfect book-buying location for students at UC Berkeley, Zaytuna College, Mills College, California College of the Arts and several other schools. The store sells new and used books and offers both buying and trade-in services. It hosts a wide range of events, from Lyrics and Dirges (a monthly reading series that features a wide range of diverse authors) to Happy Hour Stories (a monthly short story reading night complete with snacks and cocktails) and several others.
4. Flyleaf Books (Chapel Hill, NC)
In close proximity to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Flyleaf sells new and used books in a warm and welcoming location - the store openly welcomes all people of diverse backgrounds, and wrote an open letter to the North Carolina State Legislature requesting the repeal of HB2 in April of 2016. Flyleaf hosts a monthly book club and also provides guidelines for members of the community who wish to order books for their own clubs. The store also hosts many events, from children’s storytime to poetry open mic nights.
5. Wild Iris Books (Gainesville, FL)
As Florida’s only LGBT+ and feminist bookstore, Wild Iris Books provides a wide variety of resources for the studies of women and racial minority groups, as well as LGBT+ resources and alternative children’s books - all within close proximity to the University of Florida. In addition to new and used, Wild Iris sells artisanal soaps, fair trade coffee and hand-beaded jewelry. The store will host its first Mayor’s Book Club in September, the goal being to create a space where readers can come and discuss books that deal with themes of diversity and social justice.
6. Prairie Lights Bookstore (Iowa City, IA)
Founded in 1978, Prairie Lights Bookstore is located near the University of Iowa, which houses the prestigious Iowa Writers’ Workshop. The workshop has been a vital part of the bookstore since its conception. Store owner Jan Weissmiller told Fresh U, "nearly every workshop graduate that has published since the founding of Prairie Lights has been back to read...the International Writing Program of The University of Iowa, now nearly 50 years old, draws writers from around the world and they certainly enliven our store as well."
Prairie Lights spans a three-and-a-half-floor space, containing both a bookstore and a small cafe. In the 1930s, prior to the opening of the store, the cafe was a coffeehouse that served as a popular haunt for Iowa City’s local literary society, housing writers such as Langston Hughes and Robert Frost. The store hosts “Live From Prairie Lights," a series where authors read their works and the readings are then broadcast on the Internet. A key characteristic of Prairie Lights is the amount of books the store contains - according to Weissmiller, "we are loathe to be a gift store and have only put about 10% of our inventory into non-book items. Our customers do continually comment on the number of books and liking to be in a 'real' bookstore." The store's array of non-literary items is subdued as well, and focused on supporting the store's brand and the work of local artisans, from Prairie Lights t-shirts and mugs to fine art prints designed by local creators.
7. Magers & Quinn Booksellers (Minneapolis, MN)
The largest independent bookstore in the Twin Cities, Magers & Quinn features sliding ladders, stacks of new and used books and live literary readings, all within proximity to the University of Minnesota. The store also hosts Magers and Quinn Presents, a podcast featuring authors reading and discussing their work. The Magers & Quinn First Edition Club allows readers to sign up for a subscription service providing access to signed first edition copies of books, perfect for anyone wanting to grow their library.
8. Brattle Book Shop (Boston, MA)
Brattle is simultaneously an outdoor market, a used book store and a center for rare books: its indoor space consists of three floors that contain out-of-print and used books, as well as rare collectibles and first editions. Store owner Kenneth Gloss explained to Fresh U that, as a store for rare and used books, Brattle falls victim to the digital age somewhat less than new bookstores: "People are buying rare books because they want an object...a digital edition can't replace that." Collectors of rare books are collectors at heart, and come to antiquarian bookstores in search of rare and unique items. The collegiate atmosphere of Boston also helps contribute to the store's success. Gloss says that, "there is a literary history in Boston, a lot of educated people, and those educated people buy books, they have libraries." Brattle continues to be a prominent part of the Boston community, drawing academics who want to build their collections and tourists who want to explore the store's outdoor stacks.
9. Baldwin’s Book Barn (West Chester, PA)
Baldwin’s takes originality to a completely new level - the store is located in a five-story barn, complete with cozy reading nooks, stone walls and a wood-burning stove. The store is known for its collection of rare, used and antiquarian books. The perfect place to spend a winter afternoon curled up with a book, Baldwin’s begs to be visited by West Chester University students.
10. Elliott Bay Book Company (Seattle, WA)
Elliott Bay is one of Seattle’s leading independent bookstores, containing a wide variety of new books in a multi-story, cozy building complete with reading nooks and exposed woodwork. The store hosts multiple book groups each month, storytime and other events for children and author visits on a regular basis. The staff has a page where they give their book recommendations to the public, making books much more accessible to those just getting into reading, and the wide range of books available at the store makes it a hub for students.
The next time you’re out in your local college town, remember to give your neighborhood indie bookstore a visit - you may be surprised by what you find!
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