Friday, July 15, 2011

Fast Five Friday: Independent Spirit

One of the highlights of our summer trip is going to the bookstore in Copper Harbor, Michigan. The store is called Grandpa’s Barn, but it’s really more of a quaint little log cabin. The woman who operates the store does a great job of selecting books. We spend a lot of time in bookstores throughout the year, but without fail, we find hidden gems at Grandpa’s Barn. We never leave without making a dent in the inventory, doing our best to help the store’s bottom line.

Driving back from Grandpa’s Barn the other day, I got to thinking about independent bookstores. There’s a lot of talk in our digital times about the demise of bookstores, but I have to believe there will always be a place for well-run independents. Here are five great independent bookstores that I hope are around for a very long time.

5) Antigone – Tucson, AZ: This store is located on 4th Avenue in the heart of the University of Arizona campus. I don’t get down there as much as I should, but every time I do, I find great books. My wife once showed up to a Barbara Kingsolver reading so early she was afraid the store’s employees might think she was stalking Kingsolver.

4) Powell’s Books – Portland, OR: I’ve been to Portland twice in my life, which means I’ve been to Powell’s twice in my life. Powell’s is huge, occupying an entire city block in downtown Portland. Without the benefit of any data, I’m going to go out on a limb and say that Powell’s is the most successful independent bookstore in the country. If it’s not, I’d like to see the independent bookstore that’s doing better.

3) The Wild Rumpus – Minneapolis, MN: You have to love a place that takes its name from Where the Wild Things Are. The Wild Rumpus is a children’s bookstore, complete with all kinds of animals running around and on display. The store has an iconic entrance, a door within a door for the kiddos.

2) Grandpa’s Barn - Copper Harbor, MI: A Keweenaw Peninsula treasure.

1) Singing Wind Bookshop – Benson, AZ: This one is WAY off the beaten path. Benson is about 30 miles east of Tucson, and Singing Wind is located on the outskirts, down a long private dirt road. When you get to the end of the road, you’ll find a fully functional cattle ranch. The bookstore itself is a series of rooms in Winn Bundy's home, and she will gladly show you around. Winn specializes in all things Southwestern, but her interests are diverse, and you’re sure to find a book you need to have. Singing Wind has been written up in the New York Times, and people from all over the world have purchased books at this truly unique place.

The independent spirit is still alive and kicking at these amazing bookstores. If you’re ever in the neighborhood, make sure you stop in and spend a little money. You’ll be richer for the experience.

If you know of any other great independent bookstores, be sure to tell us about them in the comments.


  1. I love independent bookstores. Several of my favorites have already closed. Here in Kansas City we still have a couple gems. Rainy Day Books that have a lot of interesting authors come in for lectures and book signings. AND just for the kids there is a really cute bookstore called the Reading Reptile.

  2. I love independent bookstores too. I'll have to keep Grandpa's Barn in mind if we happen to make it into that neck of the woods.
    One of our favorite places to spend hours is the John King Bookstore in Detroit (MI) if you happen to like to gander through used bookstores. Four stories of used and antique books, plus a separate building that houses their rare books.

  3. They have a place here I like called Half Priced Books which is a used book store. I can't remember the last time I bought a new book.

  4. I remember one of the A-Z bloggers wrote about Wild Rumpus, and I thought that was such a fantastic name for a bookstore. I'd love to go there. Grandpa's Barn sounds fabulous too. Great Friday Five topic. :)

  5. I've never been to Powell's but I've heard about it. If I'm ever in Portland, I may have to check it out.

  6. I am a firm believer that existing on the shelves of Powell's Books is every bit of knowledge required to take over the world.
    I'm heading up there again soon to look for it.

  7. Squilla's AuntJuly 15, 2011 at 11:58 AM

    Tim, you left out the part about Powell's that I think should make it #1 on your list. It's full name is "Powell's City of Books". I love the mental pictures that creates. A store that is so massive it is called a "city of books" - combined with the fact that you can get seriously and happily lost in the labyrinthine stacks....for anyone that likes to read, this just delights the soul.

    Also, I think the Dartmouth College Bookstore might be a worthy addition to the list, although it might not fit exactly fit the independent bookstore description. It's not super quirky or anything, but it's in a classic building and has the ambiance - the type of place you want to stay in when you're there. More importantly, there are a lot of titles & topics that just grab you.

  8. There are a few independents here that I love. The Tattered Cover is probably the biggest of the indies in Denver. It's where all the authors show up for their book signings. Also love The Boulder Bookstore. It's one of those multi-level stores where every nook and cranny has become the display space for a book. Then there is McDonals's Books in Estes Park. The floors slope and the aisles are about two feet wide in places, but one of my favorite places to browse for books, especially kids books.

    Hope you're having a good summer, Tim.

    Also, please, Powell's, don't let Munk near the "Do it yourself" books. :)

  9. Sounds like an awesome outing. I personally think nothing is better than walking into a bookstore and buying a ton of books.

  10. Elliot Bay Bookstore in Seattle is a great one. Just a few blocks from the downtown core in the Capitol Hill neighborhood. Lots of culture nearby as well.

  11. In New York, there is the Strand Bookstore, and when I lived there I would roam in it at least a couple of times a week. Amazing place.
    I have to think that the closing of Barnes and Noble in NYC, and other big corp closings (like Borders) will help the independents. I hope so, anyway. ;)

  12. I'm afraid I'm one of the masses who have succombed to the mega book store; that I don't even seek the independents. I used to LOVE them, and would support any that are convenient to my home. Unfortunately, but realistically, our busy lives make us seek convenience.

    Oh, but I just thought of Atlantic Books in Cape May, NJ. I visit (and purchase)every summer.