Whenever I travel to a new city and I hear they have an indie bookstore, I make it a point to visit. I’m sure many of you are the same way. It’s only natural. There’s something unique and special about indie bookstores — the passion from their booksellers, the creativity in their setups and the comforting environments they provide.
Here’s a disclaimer before I countdown the list: These are all indie bookstores that I have personally visited. I’m sure there are many, many, many throughout this land that are worth visiting (most are, aren’t they?) but I wanted to be confident in what I was writing. I put my personal stamp on this list.
1. McLean & Eakin Booksellers in Petoskey, Michigan
If you ever find yourself on the northern shores of Lake Michigan, in the town of Petoskey, make it a point to stop by McLean & Eakin. This humble bookstore is nestled on a downtown block (beside a coffeeshop, I should mention) and features two stories of books. Upon entering, there is a full bookshelf dedicated to Ernest Hemingway, who spent ample time in Petoskey in his younger years, and also one for books written by Michigan authors.
In 2012, it was named one of America’s 10 best bookstores, and in 2017 it celebrated 25 years of bookselling.
Each time I visit the area, I make it a point to stop by this bookstore. The staff is friendly, the selection is outstanding and there is something cozy about its atmosphere. I strongly suggest you add this to your list.
2. Northshire Bookstore in Saratoga Springs, New York
A few years ago I was on a work trip to Saratoga Springs and had a few hours to kill in town before the planned dinner, so I took a little walk and happened upon the Northshire Bookstore. Places like this are always pleasant to stumble upon. There’s always that fresh, new feeling and Northshire certainly didn’t disappoint. It was clean, well organized and offered an exceptional atmosphere.
This may be situated in the middle of horse racing country, but they sure do books well.
3. Literati Bookstore in Ann Arbor, Michigan
This is the indie bookstore that I would most closely call my hometown bookstore. My wife and I both went to the University of Michigan, and as it’s downtown Ann Arbor, we visit as often as we’re able to visit our old college town.
Literati is an exceptional bookstore and it is obvious that it is being run by true bibliophiles. The featured book tables are not the typical major publisher titles that you will find in a large chain like Barnes & Noble or Books-a-Million, but rather display a custom-selected assortment of books by people who have done their research and know what releases are truly the best. They also host a large number of readings by current and popular authors. Check out their website for a full calendar.
In 2019, Literati was named the Publishers Weekly Bookstore of the Year.
4. Battery Park Book Exchange in Asheville, North Carolina
Okay, this one isn’t as much a traditional bookstore as it is what I would call a “book environment.” My wife and I were visiting Asheville a couple summers ago and we were walking around downtown before dinner and saw that this bookstore was around the corner and decided to stop in.
What we found was an old fashioned atmosphere, with classic bookshelves and a collection of used books. The best way to explain the feel is historic.
On one side there was a bar that served adult beverages, and on the other was a coffee bar. Sitting in the leather furniture that was positioned in a square in the center of the space was a book club that looked to be having its weekly meeting. For any book lover, this was a great place to discover. If you’re ever in Asheville, stop in and have a glass of wine or a coffee.
5. Snowbound Books in Marquette, Mich.
Marquette is a heck of a long way north, sitting on the shores of Lake Superior in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, but if you are ever to find yourself there, put Snowbound Books on your list of places to visit. There’s a ton that this little town has to offer — amazing craft breweries, a university, a historic downtown and ore dock, and a park that juts out into the Great Lakes that is famous for cliff jumping.
But while all of those things are reasons to visit, any trip to Marquette should include stopping by Snowbound Books. You almost feel like you’re arriving at someone’s home when you step inside. The shelves run along the walls of the small rooms, and that’s how you browse — room by room, as if walking through a local home. There’s a comforting feel to the place, and it’s certainly on my list of bookstores to visit once more.