34 Philadelphia-Area Bookstores for When You Need a Really Good Read
Love the smell of a dusty old tome? Looking for a page-turning best seller? Check out these new, used and independent shops.
Well, beloved Center City bookstore Joseph A. Fox is about to turn its last page. After an amazing 70-year run, the Sansom Street spot will close its doors on Saturday not because of poor sales or rising rent, but because Michael Fox has had a good, long career and deserves a frickin’ break. He and the bookshop his dad founded were two of the all-time greats. Sigh. Now seems like a good time to take stock of the Philadelphia-area bookstore situation. Here’s our list of who’s still out there, fighting the good fight against the mail-order giant who shall not be named. (If I missed your favorite, send me an email.)
Barnes & Noble
1805 Walnut Street, 215-665-0716
Truth be told, Borders should’ve won the battle of the big bookstore chains — I mean, they had a really good zine section — but Barnes & Noble ain’t so bad. The Rittenhouse Square location especially has its upsides: knowledgeable staff, high-profile/poorly advertised readings, well-stocked magazine and graphic novel sections, etc. So what if the escalator keeps breaking down?
Bauman Rare Books
1608 Walnut Street, suite 1000, 215-546-6466
Did you know Philadelphia has its own branch of the appointment-only rare-book Bauman consortium? Well, keep it in mind in case you one day become the sort of well-to-do-dowager or monied boulevardier who fancies a first-edition Kipling or a signed Voynich Manuscript. (But, perhaps expect a heist.)
Big Blue Marble Bookstore
551 Carpenter Lane, 215-844-1870
With its smart, diverse selection and frequent readings and events, this Mount Airy bookshop is everything you want from a community-oriented space. Everybody loves the Big Blue Marble.
4530 Baltimore Avenue, 215-662-5780
This volunteer-run West Philly shop in the vicinity of Clark Park offers stacks and shelves of “new and discounted (but still new) books” in all categories. Best sellers for 2021 include Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower, Robin Wall Kimmerer’s Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants, Torrey Peters’s Detransition, Baby, Michelle Zauner’s Crying in H Mart: A Memoir and so on.
Black and Nobel
422 South Street, 215-965-1559
Once situated at Broad and Erie, this bookshop/cultural center focuses on Black uplift, knowledge and experiences, with titles like Africa: Mother of Western Civilization, Medical Apartheid, Slavery and the Making of America — plus cookbooks, children’s books, Black Panther graphic novels, etc.
311 North 20th Street, 215-567-0527
Situated just north of the Main Branch, this used bookshop lines its shelves with community donations (and, I think, Free Library overstock). Everything’s already pretty cheap, but seasonal sales can ignite a polite frenzy among gently ravenous readers lured in by the $2 hardcovers and $1 trade paperbacks. The selection at Book Corner is eclectic and always changing, plus they’ve got a super-friendly staff (including cats Chaucer and Catticus).
2202 Fairmount Avenue, 215-235-3226
This quiet, long-running used bookshop in Fairmount has a much larger selection than you’d guess from walking by, and that’s because it’s all shelves in there. The prices are reasonable, and the books are well-chosen and in good condition, too. They’ve even got a cozy spot upstairs that’s useful for sitting down to review potential purchases and petting a cat or two.
7 North Second Street, 215-925-2080
This crowded, overstuffed used bookshop is the best thing about Old City. So much fiction. So much nonfiction. So much everything, arranged in a maze of shelves that will have you crouching and craning to take in every spine. It’s extremely difficult to leave the Book Trader without buying something.
709 South Fourth Street, 215-592-1207
Patrick Richardson Graham’s lovely Queen Village shop is all killer and no filler, with a shrewd selection of books that range from the “popular but great” to “lost favorites” to “never heard of this before but now I can’t live without it.” They’ve also got a smart little music section and (during pre-masked times) hosted some intriguing concerts and readings. Keep an eye on Brickbat’s Instagram to see what new curiosities have crossed the threshold.
View this post on Instagram
Garland of Letters Bookstore
527 South Street, 215-923-5946
South Street keeps on changing, but Garland of Letters just keeps on keepin’ on with its stock of new-age, old-wisdom books, incense sticks and life-size lion statue in the doorway. The floral-scented shop won a 2019 Best of Philly for its spiritual books and tarot decks.
Hakim’s Bookstore & Gift Shop
210 South 52nd Street, 215-474-9495
Philadelphia’s oldest Black-owned bookstore devotes its inventory to African American studies, history, children’s books, biographies and memoirs, philosophy and more. Seems like every few years you hear a rumor that this family-owned shop on 52nd Street will close its doors, but Hakim’s is still open, and still serving the community in a way no other business can.
258 East Girard Avenue, 267-241-2617
Jeannine Cook opened Harriett’s Bookshop just a month before the pandemic hit Philly, but what could have spelled disaster for the upstart Fishtown spot instead became a rallying cry for readers and supporters who want to see the place succeed. Focused on art and literature by women and Black authors, Harriett’s (named after Harriet Tubman) has even opened a second location: Ida’s (named for Ida B. Wells) in Collingswood, N.J.
Head House Books
619 South Second Street, 215-923-9525
For some Philadelphians, this Queen Village bookshop could, perhaps, fill that Joseph Fox-shaped hole in their hearts. Open since 2005, Head House offers a choice selection of new books in a bright, friendly and classic atmosphere.
House of Our Own Books
3920 Spruce Street, 215-222-1576
Founded in 1971, this friendly, quiet bookshop just across the border from Penn’s campus is a lovely place to get lost in — thanks to its many rooms bursting with tomes in a variety of categories.
Jules Goldman Books and Art
29 North Second Street, 215-923-2203
This wonderful and strange Old City shop sells books, but also all sorts of art, antiques, records and such, giving it a curiously upscale thrift-store vibe.
The Last Word Bookshop
20 South 40th Street, 215-386-7750
Pre-Covid, this amiable used bookstore was my go-to spot in West Philly to meet friends before grabbing dinner at New Delhi or seeing a movie at Cinemark. The Last Word is just big enough to kill a half hour or so scanning their shelves and picking out intriguing titles or forgotten favorites in the fiction, crime and sci-fi sections. Good cats, too. (Pro tip: Don’t skip the bins by the door.)
Lot 49 Books
1713 South Sixth Street, 267-515-2113
I’m hearing nothing but good things about this DIY South Philly shop offering new and used books, often from small presses, in addition to zines, records and such.
Molly’s Books & Records
1010 South Ninth Street, 215-923-3367
Molly Russakoff’s shop is an Italian Market institution every bit as important as the butcher, the spice place, the produce people, etc. Eater recently called Molly’s “the best cookbook bookstore in Philadelphia.” I go there to flip through the records and pick up old sci-fi/pulp paperbacks.
View this post on Instagram
Mostly Books Warehouse
529 Bainbridge Street, 215-238-9838
Nobody will say a word if you spend an hour wandering the cluttered aisles looking for exactly the right dusty old paperback to fit your mood. Friendly and mildly chaotic, Mostly Books has old-school South Street, odds-and-ends, love-of-the-game vibes.
1906 South Street, 215-545-2665
Not enough people know about this cool little shop in the Graduate Hospital area. Most of their shelves are dedicated to secondhand books, but they make room for lots of new and classic titles as well. And don’t miss out on their comic books, greeting cards handmade by local artists, and author-inspired T-shirts.
View this post on Instagram
A Novel Idea on Passyunk
1726 East Passyunk Avenue, 267-764-1202
This friendly, stylish South Philly bookshop — run by Alexander Schneider and Christina Rosso-Schneider — has lots of new and interesting reads, but they’re extra cool for putting local authors and publishers on a pedestal.
Philadelphia Center for the Book
333 South Broad Street, 800-732-0999
This looks interesting — a store and gallery space dedicated to zines, handmade books, art books and other stuff of the DIY variety. It’s by appointment only; the calendar includes exhibitions, workshops and other events.
Shakespeare & Co. Philadelphia
1632 Walnut Street, 215-240-1000
A decent chain of small, classy stores that prides itself on its thoughtful, handpicked inventory. Good coffee, too.
Uncle Bobbie’s Coffee and Books
5445 Germantown Avenue, 215-403-7058
This Germantown bookshop and community cultural hotspot — run by author and Temple professor Marc Lamont Hill — has a very good slogan: “Cool People. Dope Books. Great Coffee.” Uncle Bobbie’s is also the official bookseller at all Free Library readings.
Wooden Shoe Books
704 South Street, 215-413-0999
A holdout from South Street’s wilder days, the Wooden Shoe specializes in reading material with an activist/anarchist edge, including alternate histories, children’s books, banned books, zines, manifestos — you name it.
Greater Philadelphia-Area Bookstores
Baldwin’s Book Barn
865 Lenape Road, West Chester, 610-696-0816
This place is amazing — just room after room, floor after floor of books in every genre. They’ve got lots of signed and first-print stuff, but also lots of cheap, rare and/or weird stuff. No wonder we called the rustic Baldwin’s Book Barn The Best Reason to Ditch Your Kindle a couple years back.
The Bear and the Books
45 West Broad Street, Hopewell, N.J., 609-466-1166
People with kids swear by this cute children’s bookstore in central Jersey.
Cathy’s Half-Price Books
7 Manoa Shopping Center, 1305 West Chester Pike, Havertown, 610-924-0988
Let’s just quote the 2021 Best of Philly write-up in its entirety: “Most of the 60,000 or so gently used items at this 17-year-old stalwart are, indeed, half their original price or less. Then there are new reads and rare works — some with a Philly provenance — all stocked by bibliophilic owners Shannon and Cathy Rutherford.”
The Cloak and Dagger
349 Nassau Street, Princeton, N.J., 609-688-9840
A Princeton spot dedicated to mystery books. People who read that sort of thing swear by this place.
221 Haverford Avenue, Narberth, 610-664-1112
This community-oriented bookstore offers new and used selections and bills itself as “a lovingly curated, forward-thinking haven for voracious readers.”
2917 Atlantic Avenue, Atlantic City, N.J., 609-344-1943
This Atlantic City bookstore which is not at all in Princeton has an inviting storefront full of bookcases and the words WE BUY THE OLD painted in big block letters over the entrance. They specialize not in the purchase of elderly people, but in the sale and acquisition of used books, especially of the leather-bound variety.
45 East Lancaster Avenue, Ardmore, 610-649-1235
This Ardmore coffee shop has a curated selection of new and used books for sale. “The nonfiction selection focuses on faith, history, philosophy, culture and biography. The fiction section features classics, poetry and stories of hope.”
Wellington Square Bookshop
549 Wellington Square, Exton, 610-458-1144
This Chester County shop and cafe promises “lots of nooks & crannies where you can curl up, relax and read.”