Field Guide: 15 Independent Bookstores That’ll Make You Want to Toss Your Kindle

Yes, they still exist. And they’re more magical than ever.

Photo credit: Wellington Square Bookshop

Photo credit: Wellington Square Bookshop Facebook

Bookstores — specifically those of the indie variety — have come to represent something quite different in the age of “140 characters or less” and “TL;DR.” But before you cast them off as a You’ve Got Mail-era relic, consider this: Independent bookstores are more than an ode to nostalgia and much-needed tactility — they also often boast the smartest literati as shopkeepers and the most inviting (and weather-proofed) hangouts you can find in/around Philly. So the next time your eyes start to blur after thumbing your four-inch screen for a couple hours, you can come up for air and head to one of these 15 brick-and-mortar independent bookstores. 

1. Penn Book Center


130 South 34th Street, University City
Wedged next to a Citizens Bank, Penn Book Center isn’t much to look at compared to its counterparts housed inside more romantic settings like barns or brownstones. But inside, you’ll find a split-level filled with tidy shelves with titles by local authors displayed prominently. If you find yourself grabbing books by the armful, then you’ll appreciate the rewards program: $10 credit for every $100 spent. Word is subversive Penn professors will only call in course texts to the shop, rather than the Barnes & Noble-backed university bookstore around the block.
Go here for: Academic-meets-mainstream texts that don’t feel like midterm prep

2. Book Corner


311 North 20th Street, Art Museum
Nowadays, it can be tough to nab books on the cheap, but at Book Corner, paperbacks are priced between $1 and $2, and hardcovers ring in at a paltry $3. Operated by the Friends of the Free Library, the quaint secondhand bookstore runs on donations (you can arrange a drop-off appointment for your own tired texts), so don’t expect recent releases. Tip: visit during the June clearance sale to score books at even steeper discounts.
Go here for: Inexpensive books that are perfect for filling sparse shelves

3. House of Our Own


3920 Spruce Street, University City
Nestled between a charming row of Victorian frat houses (alas), House of Our Own might easily be missed if it weren’t for the weather-worn sign and milk crates full of literary castoffs out front. Downstairs is dedicated to a decent selection of newer works; upstairs is stuffed to the brim with used books arranged in every genre imaginable. Head to the front of the house when you emerge from the stairwell; there’s an impressive selection of children’s books underneath the bay windows.
Go here for: Classics in every edition and cover, thanks to repetitive reading lists and nomadic college students

Photo credit: Head House Books Facebook

Photo credit: Head House Books Facebook

4. Head House


619 South 2nd Street, Queen Village
Head House is kind of what we picture the great American bookstore to look like: bookshelves with crown molding, unpretentious hardcovers merchandised just so, and a shop owner that, if we’re being honest, reminds us a bit of a young Richard Gere. They also host regular literary events in-shop that draw the literary types, and aggregate book lovers from all over the city on their website.
Go here for: Recommended reading lists that parlay into top-notch gifts

5. The Book Trader


7 North 2nd Street, Old City
Upon entering The Book Trader, you might suspect there are books that have gone untouched since the shop’s opening. (It’s possible: The place is 40 years old, and there are lots of books.) But beyond the intimidating pillars of haphazard stacks, you’ll find a room dedicated to vintage vinyl, an old books section, and your usual assortment of genre-categorized shelves. With some patient sorting (they’re open until 10 p.m.), you’ll have no trouble finding works by major authors, as well as—possibly—some hidden gems.
Go here for: The hunt

6. Garland of Letters Bookstore


527 South Street, Queen Village
If you want Dead Poets Society, don’t go to Garland of Letters Bookstore. But, if you want, say, a text on Taoism, a book about Feng Shui or a crystal that wards off illness, you’ve come to the right place. With a mishmash of faux flowers, a faint aroma of patchouli and a life-size lion statue up front, the bookshop is anything but classic, and stocks an eccentric array of religious and spiritual texts that are next to impossible to find elsewhere.
Go here for: Your New Age mysticism questions

7. Port Richmond Books


3037 Richmond Street, Port Richmond
Housed in a former silent movie theater, this massive bookstore counts over 200,000 books in its collection, making it ideal for uninterrupted treasure hunting. And while the lengthy aisles of books are surely a draw, locals also enjoy picking the brain of owner and longtime Philadelphian (he volunteered at the Society Hill Playhouse for 30 years) Greg Gillespie. Beware: the bookshop has reportedly had brushes with the paranormal.
Go here for: Irish literature and out-of-print collectibles

8. Wellington Square Bookshop


549 Wellington Square, Exton
There are bookstores that are best for solitary browsing, while others are better suited for the extroverted reader. Wellington Square Bookshop is one of the latter. There, you’ll find weekly story time, multiple book clubs, an owner-hosted podcast called The Avid Reader, and a coffee bar — which is a surprisingly rare find amongst local booksellers. Cozy up with a new read and cappuccino atop one of their many couches, and feel content in your decision to trek it to the ‘burbs.
Go here for: A book club featuring books you actually want to read

9. Inkwood


31 Kings Highway East, Haddonfield, NJ
If the sign reading “We are so happy you are here” doesn’t make you feel welcome, then surely the store’s crisp, clean interiors, cheerful staff and kid-friendly book nooks will. Less than a year old, Inkwood is helmed by former environmental attorney Julie Beddingfield and specializes in fiction, nonfiction, poetry and children’s books. Follow the freshman shop on Facebook for the details on in-store author events.
Go here for: Smart beach reads to stash away for the Shore

10. Brickbat Books


709 South 4th Street, Queen Village
Perhaps best characterized as a book boutique, Brickbat displays its beautiful covers outward in a stylish floor-to-ceiling grid of shelves. The collection curated by owner Patrick Richardson Graham lacks the mainstream but substance-devoid books you might encounter elsewhere, instead offering things like artist monographs and rare editions to outfit your own shelves.
Go here for: Art books (coffee table perfect!) in a gallery-like setting.

11. Joseph Fox


1724 Sansom Street, Rittenhouse
A few blocks from Rittenhouse Square sits an immaculately organized shop that lands on the perfect proportions of newly released hardcovers, glossy coffee-table books and whimsical reads for little ones. Though the selection is carefully curated (ideal for those who feel overwhelmed by too many options), the Joseph Fox employees will special order anything you can’t find in-store, usually ready for pick-up within 72 hours.
Go here for: Stellar recommendations from shopkeepers who really know their lit

Photo credit: Baldwin's Book Barn Facebook

Photo credit: Baldwin’s Book Barn Facebook

12. Baldwin’s Book Barn


856 Lenape Road, West Chester
Where does one store 300,000 used and rare books? In a five-story 1822 dairy barn that’s so massive it warrants its own map, of course. Wind your way through the labyrinth of rooms to discover first editions, antique hardcovers and even modern paperbacks. There are chairs conveniently placed throughout, so you can feel free to inspect your finds as you tour the building.
Go here for: Indulgent, transcendent browsing

13. Farley’s Bookshop


44 South Main Street, New Hope
A New Hope mainstay, Farley’s Bookshop has amassed legions of devoted fans thanks to its commitment to all things indie, be it through local-author spotlights or the staggering selection of work by small presses and independent publishers. Fun fact: Fred Rogers (a.k.a. Mister Rogers) and James Michener helped the Farleys open the shop back in 1967 by buying out the former storefront.
Go here for: A sweet Suburban bookshop experience, complete with lazy cat

14. Mostly Books


529 Bainbridge Street, Queen Village
Sure, you can bring a list to Mostly Books, prepared to tick off your finds, but we don’t suggest that. The gritty, cavernous bookshop is better suited for lazy afternoons spent parsing through masses of books (some 50,000 of them) and random curiosities in the 5,000 square foot warehouse. Need to refresh your shelves at home? Swap your books and music for 35 percent their worth in store credit.
Go here for: Well-stocked shelves of obscure categories like cookbooks and cultural studies

15. The Cloak & Dagger


349 Nassau Street, Princeton, NJ
This one’s a trek, we know, but it seemed, um, criminal not to include Princeton-based Cloak & Dagger, an independent bookstore that stocks only mystery books. It’s delightfully niche-y (where else will you find the entire gamut of the mystery genre, from gumshoe to noir, and beyond?), and you can even get the kids into the action with cozies, which are kid-friendly whodunnits.
Go here for: The quirk factor. And who doesn’t love a good mystery? 

Around The Web


Be respectful of our online community and contribute to an engaging conversation. We reserve the right to ban impersonators and remove comments that contain personal attacks, threats, or profanity, or are flat-out offensive. By posting here, you are permitting Philadelphia magazine and Metro Corp. to edit and republish your comment in all media.

  • LauraInPhilly

    The Book Corner is not operated by the Free Library of Philadelphia., It is operated by the Friends of the Free Library of Philadelphia. Please correct this

    • Marina Lamanna

      You’re right! The post has been edited to reflect that.

      • LauraInPhilly

        Ok course I am right. I am the executive director of the Friends of the Free Library.

        • pjcostello

          Did you have to pass an Arrogance Test for the position? Or do you simply come by it naturally?

  • Jessica Baskin Taylor

    How can you not have Big Blue Marble books on this list??!! In the Mt. Airy Village (www.mtairyvillage.com), tons of programming in addition to books & a great kids’ area & food/coffee. http://www.bigbluemarblebooks.com.

    • Jane Oswald Easley

      Ditto!!!

  • blackkdark

    The Title Page in Bryn Mawr is amazing with tons upon tons of used books.

  • SUB

    R.I.P. Robin’s. (Yeah that’s right, I’m not over it! LOL)

  • http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00TWMKAIO Debby Drezon Carroll

    Consider adding Open Book in Elkins Park to your list. It’s a gem with brilliant shopkeepers who love all things literary.

  • Mr. Know-It-All

    How do you publish a list of important Philadelphia bookstores and completely ignore Giovanni’s Room? Shame on you!

  • Leegles

    Book Haven on Fairmount Ave by the Eastern State Penitentiary has the best collection of used fiction/literature in Philadelphia — and it’s not even close — and it’s not on the list. Molly’s in the Italian Market also has a solid small selection of used books at good prices.

    • JA_199

      Ditto on Book Haven – great shop.

    • Michelle C.

      So many options, I can’t even keep track!

      • Leegles

        Note: I updated my comment to include two other good ones not on the list.

  • J.T. Barbarese

    Can ‘t believe you omitted the best bookstore in Princeton (and possibly NJ): LABYRINTH BOOKS, 122 Nassau St, several doors south of where Einstein bought his sneakers.

  • swg

    You ignored the Read and Eat..2 locations. The new one in Roxborough is lovely on the inside.

  • R8trader

    Forgot Main Point Books (Bryn Mawr). http://www.mainpointbooks.com/

  • A Drake

    Having been a huge fan of independent bookstores over three decades, your blatant omission of Giovanni’s Room again shows just how mechanical your “research” is whenever some clever idea strikes the staff at PM. I don’t know why I ever even look at anything with the words Philadelphia Magazine (aka the view of Philadelphia from the main line ivory towers).

  • pjcostello

    I know this wasn’t mean to be an exhaustive list of every independent bookstore in the region, but since other people have added some worthy suggestions, here’s another: The Chester County Book Company in West Chester. I miss the old days, when they had a cafe/restaurant attached, but it’s still a great place:
    http://www.chestercountybooks.com/

    • DTurner

      Agreed, I miss the Cajun cafe, but the new location is still excellent.

  • DTurner

    Kind of disappointed that we do not have any bookstores with cafes or bars in the city. Kramerbooks in D.C. (not to mention the Busboys and Poets chain) is a great institution and I feel like it could be a very successful model in Center City or University City. One day…

    • Marina Lamanna

      Agreed! I really enjoy Kramerbooks and Busboys and Poets.

    • http://www.reneedecoskey.com/blog Renee DeCoskey

      Kramerbooks is the best! I really wish Philly had something like that too.

  • Daniel De Kok

    Cookbook Stall at the Reading Terminal Market. For a tiny shop, it’s remarkably comprehensive and the staff is knowledgeable.

  • Michelle C.

    The Book Trader has only been at its currently location for 12 years, previously being at 5th and South. So, yeah, some books might not’ve been touched for 12 years, but probably not 40 :)

  • Wellington Bookshop

    Marina, Thank You so much for including us in this article and Thank You for recognizing the need for such an article! In a world dominated by Amazon, the indies struggle to hang on and yet offer so much to a community (as shown by the comments here;) We appreciate a little spotlight on the local guys!

    • Marina Lamanna

      My pleasure!

  • Rachel Ezekiel-Fishbein

    Check out one of Philly’s newest independent bookstores, Open Book in Elkins Park. The owners are a couple who have worked in published for decades. Evenings bring readings, signings, events for writers, French classes and so much more.

  • https://melissialenox.wordpress.com/ M. Lenox

    I am shocked that you did not include The Spiral Bookcase in Manyunk. It is indie, hosts author events, mixes wall art