“What I say is, a town isn’t a town without a bookstore. It may call itself a town, but unless it’s got a bookstore, it knows it’s not foolin’ a soul.” – Neil Gaiman, American Gods
If you know anything about Sunbury Press, you know we’re bookstore super fans. These community spaces offer neighborhoods the opportunity to browse, to learn, to discover, and to come together. Many of them provide author events and writing workshops—both physical and digital—and they have dedicated staff members who love the books they surround themselves with. If you go into an indie bookshop with no idea what to buy, all you’d have to do is step up to the counter, ask them for some guidance, and you’ll be stepping out of that place with just the awesomeness you were looking for.
And because of the pandemic, these bookstores haven’t exactly had the opportunity to thrive. In order to do our part in helping bookstores in the US continue their amazing and invaluable work to our communities, we gathered together eight Sunbury Press authors so that they could tell us which bookshops are the most special to them.
To help you support these shops, we’ve also included links so that you can purchase a book directly from them or through the new platform Bookshop.org. So, let's get to it!
Without further ado, here are some of Sunbury Press authors’ favorite bookstores in the US!
Around one month prior to COVID-19’s quarantine, Jeanine A. Cook opened Harriett’s Bookshop in Fishtown, Pennsylvania, specializing in women authors, especially black women. In addition to being a browsable bookstore, Harriett’s acts a community space for people to come together and discuss ideas in a positive way. When I was there, one large bookshelf housed titles by Zadie Smith, Toni Morrison, Ntozake Shange, Zora Neale Hurston, Lorene Carey, and Erica A. Dunbar. Next to it, a stream of incense smoke lifted into the air. Near an adjacent wall, a majesty palm sat beside a green sofa.
Smaller shelves and fixtures throughout the shop showcase even more books, and a painted portrait of activist Angela Davis was featured among the citrus-scented candle and the sounds of music by Nina Simone. The ambiance make you want to stay there and read. A truly peaceful and powerful setting.
Purchase books from Harriett's Bookshop
Instant gratification! That’s what we love, and that’s what we now hold in high esteem. But when you talk about a bookstore, things melt into something more substantial—something we lost as humans. And The Book Loft in the heart of German Village is one of those rare destinations that transcends a storefront or bookshop.
Legend says that The Book Loft, with its 32 rooms that combine into an intricate maze, was once the site of a horrific event that summoned the “Skeleton Lord” Malamarkus. He is ever watching the patrons from a pit under the independent bookstore—guiding the purchases of the customers spiritually—using his dark control to shape the inhabitants and tourists alike with every selection. As a horror author, I’m not sure anything could be more exciting to me.
The reality: This business was rumored to have its start as a saloon a hundred years ago—an old Kroger grocery store—a doll hospital, and possibly a church—adding to its rich history. Now, they pack this amazing bookstore full of unique books that you just can’t get anywhere in the city and maybe the world. Within the 32 rooms, cut creatively throughout the building, patrons enjoy the thrill of the hunt that rises (in my opinion) above so many other independent bookstores. If German Village is the gem of Ohio, then The Book Loft is the jewel within the gem. Still carrying an independent spirit inside its walls, you cannot visit Central Ohio without making a stop at this historic landmark. And If you make the trip, be sure to say hello to Malamarkus for me!
Purchase books from The Book Loft
Georgia authors are excited about Pretty Good Books, a new independent bookstore in LaGrange. It's located in a stand-alone structure surrounded by plenty of free-parking, and there's enough space inside to hold author events while respecting social distancing guidelines. The store carries the latest bestsellers and genre fiction, children's books, rare books, used books, and there's even a prominent shelf dedicated to local authors.
Booklovers Joshua Rigsby and his wife sold books online for years and later moved to a shelf at a consignment shop. They had a hard time keeping up with demand there, so in December 2019, they fulfilled their dream of opening their own brick-and-mortar bookstore. Then the pandemic hit. The store reopened in May, and I was honored to participate in their first in-person author event in June.
Customers who are uncomfortable coming into the store can order directly from publishers through Bookshop (link below). The bookstore can still make recommendations and receive a portion of the sales. When I reached out to the owners about this blog post, Josh relayed just how much he loves chatting with readers and helping them discover their new favorite authors. "Book people just tend to be good people," he said. "Interacting with our patrons gives me hope for the human race."
Purchase books from Pretty Good Books
As its name suggests, Rainy Day Books offers shelter to Kansas City, Kansas and Missouri-area readers through the comfort of great books and excellent service during good times and bad. Since its doors opened in 1975, RDB owners Vivien Jennings with her partner Roger Doeren have engaged and supported their community far beyond the activity of book selling.
In addition to providing full bookstore services, Rainy Day offers personal recommendations to customers, sells all-occasion greeting cards, and offers many author readings throughout the year. Its owners specialize in community awareness, devoting their efforts to provide a “Legacy of Literacy.” They support a focus on the arts through books, but also act to promote community arts activities.
An example was their inviting local teen poets on stage to accompany Caroline Kennedy’s promotion of a love of poetry through her own favorite collection of poems. Their sense of the importance of reading to the community has never been more present than during the period of Covid-19, when the store has remained devoted to connecting books and readers.
Purchase books from Rainy Day Books
“Diesel, a Bookstore,” located in the Brentwood Country Mart on the westside of Los Angeles since 1989 is my favorite hangout for book browsing. It’s a classic indie bookstore, with a thoughtful selection of titles across all genres, a knowledgeable, literate staff eager to guide you to a good read, and a robust events program that serves up both national figures like Erica Jong and David Sedaris, and local authors like myself. I gave a talk and reading there when my first book, The Unknown Henry Miller: A Seeker in Big Sur, was published six years ago.
What I especially like about Diesel is that it feels deeply embedded in the community around it, a hub for both socializing and growth through reading. Partly this is because Diesel is housed a popular local landmark, the Country Mart, where you can also shop for clothes and household accessories, get a haircut, or grab a bite to eat while mingling with the locals. And partly this is because the staff knows the tastes of its customers and stocks the books that appeal to them. They also host the First Tuesday Book Club. I can’t wait until the pandemic subsides enough to let them reopen. Meantime, check out their virtual events online.
Purchase Books from Diesel, a Bookstore
Remember those radicals from the Beat Generation of the 1950s, folks like Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, William Burroughs, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, and others? The City Lights Bookstore, established in 1953, became one of the meccas for these writers, poets, and artists to gather and share ideas. In June, 2019, I paid homage to this North Beach shrine during a trip to San Francisco, California.
I wandered through the tight, overstuffed bookshelves, not sure where to look first. It felt like sacred ground. I couldn’t believe I was treading on the same planked floors where those hipster beatniks had walked. The bookstore’s unwavering commitment to freedom of expression, no matter how revolutionary and nonmainstream, warmed my liberal soul. I wish City Lights was my neighborhood bookstore. However, as a fulltime RVer, I have no bookstore to call my own. If my husband and I ever settle down, perhaps we’ll live in North Beach. Then, City Lights could truly become my neighborhood haunt.
Purchase Books from City Lights
Written by Thomas M. Malafarina, author of 15+ horror books
The Firefly bookstore, located at 271 West Main Street in Kutztown, PA is a great place for books and games. It is an independently-owned and operated new and used bookstore with almost 3,000 square feet of space for over 65,000 items. They also offer free gift wrapping, customer requests, and special orders. They have regular events all year long, including author signings and book releases.
It’s a wonderful place to browse, trade or sell books (for store credit) and just enjoy the pleasure of reading. They just reopened in June after COVID lockdown and are ready to serve all your book buying needs. Firefly is a breath of fresh air in the tradition of independent bookstores before it. They’ve been in business in Kutztown since 2012 and moved to a new bigger store in 2017.
Purchase Books from Firefly Bookstore
Written by Job Tyler Leach, author of As the Raven Flies
Winding Way Books is an independently-owned bookstore in the heart of Lancaster City on West Chestnut Street, just off of Prince Street. If you follow the shop on social media, you get straightforward updates on what new books are available with photos of the new inventory shot in the store. The shop boasts a wide variety of genres in both fiction and non-fiction, and often features curated selections and hard-to-find niche books. My personal favorites include the rare Charles Bukowski books frequently offered. The arrangement of the shop is simple and organized with efficient use of the space for easy browsing –exactly what I prefer in a good bookstore.
The shop is close to a number of great eating and drinking establishments. For breakfast or brunch, the Prince Street Café is an excellent option. If you’re looking to grab a pint, check out The Taproom. It’s already an awesome area to spend the day, and Winding Way Books makes it particularly attractive if you’re a booklover!
Purchase Books from Winding Way Books
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