When Powell's – the famous city of books in Portland, Oregon – announced it, too, was laying off employees as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, Stumptown was stunned.
Portland is a literary city, one that loves to while away a rainy afternoon with a cup of coffee browsing the stacks at Powells or curling up with a new book by the window overlooking West Burnside Street. The decision to lay off hundreds of Powell's employees wasn't just an abstract misfortune, it was personal – it was friends, neighbors, and chosen family out of work.
But Portland is also a city that believes strongly in community. When Powell's closed the doors to the physical City of Books, the online orders started flooding in. Ten days after layoffs were announced, Powell's hired back 100 employees full time with benefits to continue getting books out one shipment at a time.
Powell's Books partial bounce back wasn't the only glimmer of good news on the literary landscape, either. City Lights, the iconic bookstore that's been an integral part of San Francisco since the Beat generation, needed $300,000 to cover its bills, which include full pay and healthcare for staff who were sent home to shelter-in-place. Thanks to a crowd-funding campaign, they were able to exceed their goal.
But many independent bookstores aren't so well known and are still counting on remote business to stay afloat. Here are 23 independent bookstores coast to coast that are still taking orders. When the COVID-19 pandemic eventually dies down, it'll be a pleasure to see these shops turn their lights back on so, like many a Portlander or San Franciscan, you can curl up with a new favorite at your beloved local bookstore – a time-honored tradition.
1. Powell's City of Books – Portland, Oregon
There are a couple of ways to support Powell's by shopping online. One is, of course, to order straight from the Powell's website as you would any time. The other is to order through the ILQU Local 5's affiliate link, which passes 7.5% of all sales into a worker relief fund for Powell's employees and other Portlanders impacted by COVID-19.
2. Parnassus Books – Nashville, Tennessee
Co-owned by famed author Ann Patchett, Parnassus has been a beloved destination for bibliophiles in Music City for over a decade. Fortunately, you can still order from Parnassus online, as well as take advantage of their audiobook memberships through Libro.fm, from which 100% of the proceeds go to supporting Parnassus.
3. Politics and Prose – Washington DC
Open for over 30 years, Politics and Prose has grown into quite the community during its lifespan. It's fitting then that not only can you order books online via P&P for shipping or curbside pickup, but also join in the P&P Live author talks that are replacing in-person readings during the pandemic, as well as P&P classes on subjects ranging from Leonard Cohen's lyrics to Seamus Heaney's poetry to memoir workshops and even Iranian political history.
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4. The Ripped Bodice – Los Angeles, California
This unique, woman-owned bookstore is the only one in the United States to exclusively specialize in romances. If you're hoping to ride out the pandemic on a wave of literary passion, you can of course order from The Ripped Bodice online. But they're also offering custom care packages, which you select a blend of books and little gifts like bookmarks, greeting cards, pins and accessories for yourself or a friend to be boxed up together and sent off with love.
5. The Golden Notebook – Woodstock, New York
For anyone in the Catskills who is social-distancing, The Golden Notebook is an oasis of good cheer. This cozy shop has long been a favorite of local authors like Abigail Thomas. In addition to shipping orders to whatever address you provide, you can also opt for curbside pick up and free local delivery while the shop itself is closed. Locals can even look forward to same-day delivery if the item you ordered is in stock.
6. Green Apple Books – San Francisco, California
In a city known for fantastic bookstores from the iconic City Lights to the quirky Alley Cat Books, Green Apple Books is a stand-out classic. It's been an integral part of the Bay Area since 1967, featuring new and used books as well as records and other goodies like their recent line of "Stay Home, Read Books" shirts. While it's a shame to be unable to stroll by their original location on Clement just south of the Presidio and north of Golden Gate Park, ordering online is the next best thing.
7. Changing Hands – Phoenix, Arizona
Phoenix's favorite independent bookstore just celebrated its birthday on April Fools Day, albeit without much of a party. You can keep things festive, however, by shopping online or getting in on Changing Hands' other offerings like Booklover Care Packages which include custom combinations of books, tea, toys and gifts or hand-picked selections curated by the staff for your recipient's tastes and interests.
8. Quimby's – Chicago, Illinois
This punk gem is a time machine to the 1990s, when Wicker Park was weirder and indie everything was king. Specializing not just in books, but also in alt comics graphic novels, and small-batch zines, Quimby's is a haven for the DIY, eclectic set. That also means you can order things online from Quimby's you won't find anywhere else, like specially-curated Qustomized Quimby's Quarantine Zine Packages put together by staff if you jot down your interests or dial up a quick Zoom chat to discuss your options "in person." You can also score mainstream magazines, cookbooks in comic form and other delightful ephemera.
9. Prologue Bookshop – Columbus, Ohio
Part of the vibrant Short North Arts District, Prologue Bookshop fits right into Columbus' close-knit maker community that is full of independent artists, brewers, chefs, fashion designers and writers like Saeed Jones and Maggie Smith. While Governor DeWine's early shelter in place order means Prologue's storefront has been closed since March 24, they are still fulfilling orders through their warehouse partners and have gift certificates available as well as Libro.fm subscriptions for audio content.
10. Boswell Books – Milwaukee, Wisconsin
Milwaukee's indie Boswell Books is still shipping books, puzzles, games and second-hand mystery grab bags full of fiction and nonfiction surprises to Wisconsin and the rest of the United States. If you live in a neighborhood close to Boswell's Murray Hill location, you can even score special "Boswellian" delivery by a member of staff.
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11. The Tattered Cover – Denver, Colorado
Since 1971, the Tattered Cover has been serving the Denver community with its classic blend of bookstore, cafe, and newstand, as well as a slew of live author events. They're still fulfilling orders online, not only for books but also games and puzzles, gift cards and audiobooks through Libro.fm. They're also continuing to host live stream events with authors, and have put together curated reading lists on themes like Viruses and Pandemics, Take Your Mind Off the News and Resources for Parents.
12. Malaprops Bookstore – Asheville, North Carolina
Malaprops is famous in Asheville, right up there with the Mast General Store and the Orange Peel concert venue. And while you can't grab a latte at the counter and browse the stacks right now, you can order online or by phone. Patrons can get recommendations from staff, enjoy home delivery within Buncombe county and media mail delivery further afield or take advantage of live-streamed literary events and recorded conversations with authors. You can also leave a tip for the baristas in a virtual jar, and chip in to the Book Industry Charitable Foundation while you're on the site.
13. Elliot Bay Book Company – Seattle, Washington
The tagline for Elliot Bay Book Company, a mainstay of the charming Capitol Hill neighborhood, says it all - "come for the books, stay for the experience." You can do both still, albeit online. You can, of course, order whatever you have a yen for. But you can also take advantage of Elliot Bay's Maiden Voyage First Edition program, which supplies you with a hardcover first edition of an author's debut novel six times a year – making it a great gift option or care package for the bibliophile in your life. Elliot Bay also offers a Subtext Poetry Subscription Box, a bimonthly surprise filled with a book of poetry chosen by a bookseller who loves it, a handwritten letter about what makes each title notable, and a custom bookmark.
14. Taylor Books – Charleston, West Virginia
Under ordinary circumstances, Taylor Books is a welcoming place to pause your explorations of Charleston, West Virginia for a new book, a cup of tea, or to check out some of the art in their gallery. These days, you can turn to online ordering via Taylor's Bookshop.org storefront, where you can find everything from best sellers to regional reads to a timely Pandemic Reading List.
15. Charis Books – Decatur, Georgia
Brick and ivy strewn Decatur is one of the most charming corners of the Atlanta suburbs, and Charis Books is no exception. For almost 50 years, this feminist bookstore has given pride of place to often marginalized voices and created a gathering place in the spirit of their name – Greek for "grace, gift, and thankfulness." In addition to staff picks and online orders, Charis is also offering Facebook Live conversations, virtual events, discussion groups for trans folk and their allies and even yoga classes.
16. RJ Julia – Madison, Connecticut
Named for the owner's Hungarian grandmother, who fought hard for her son's education before perishing in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, RJ Julia is a labor of love. They are offering orders online, or by phone or text, with curbside pickup as an option. They're also making free books available to children and families in the New Haven and Bridgeport area in partnership to Read to Grow. In addition to books, they also sell handy items like insulated wine mugs, baby and toddler toys, puzzles, and parlor games that will keep the whole family occupied and learning.
17. Alabama Booksmith – Birmingham, Alabama
Birmingham's indie bookstore has the distinction of having mostly signed copies in inventory since 2012, though the prices don't belay that added bonus. You can nab favorites new and old from Wendell Berry to John Irving to Joe Namath, as well as join their Signed First Editions Club to get even fancier.
18. Left Bank Books – St. Louis, Missouri
Left Bank Books, the oldest and largest indie in St. Louis in the historic Central West End neighborhood, is still offering free curbside service as well as shipped orders. You can still pre-order upcoming releases like the new Elena Ferrante novel or Madeline Albright's memoir, as well as anything from your to-read list that's already out. Left Bank is also selling t-shirts and postcards to support their booksellers. And if you want to cheer up someone who's currently incarcerated and anxious about COVID-19, they do ship to penitentiaries.
19. Red Emma's – Baltimore, Maryland
A combination bookstore, restaurant and event space run as a sustainable worker cooperative, Red Emma's is especially committed to the people who make this space happen. You can find an assortment of fiction and nonfiction here, though with a name inspired by Lithuanian anarchist Emma Goldman, you won't be surprised to find the inventory has especially robust selections for politics, history and social theory, as well as a variety of tomes on Baltimore's gripping civic story.
20. Book People – Austin, Texas
Everything is bigger in Texas, including Book People – the largest independent bookstore in in the Lone Star State. They're slinging books via online orders and hosting virtual events via Instagram Live, including author discussions with Mary Pauline Lowry and Mikel Jollett. You can also shop audiobooks and e-books for instant gratification.
21. Books and Books – Miami, Florida
If you're looking for a diverse selection of books, there's few better places to look than Miami's indie Books and Books, where owner Mitchell Kaplan has long been intentional about reflecting Miami's colorful melting pot on his shop's shelves. Despite the closure of their physical storefront, they're still keeping releases new and old flying out of the warehouse, from new releases from independent publishers to trendy tomes like Julia Phillips The Disappearing EArth and Elizabeth Gilbert's City of Girls.
22. Shakespeare & Co. – Missoula, Montana
The name Shakespeare & Co. was inspired by the bookshop in Paris, but is otherwise this cozy store is entirely its own creature that's been serving Missoula for decades. Their online ordering process is a little different – instead of a click-and-ship interface, you can simply put an ISBN number or title into their form and booksellers will get cracking on your cart. It's a truly local system known affectionately as Garthazon in honor of owner Garth Whitson. You can also pick up shirts and gift certificates to support Shakespeare & Co., too.
23. Prairie Lights – Iowa City, Iowa
Back in the 1930s, the space now occupied by Prairie Lights was home to a literary society where locals met up to chat about books – and host luminaries like Carl Sandburg, Robert Frost, Sherwood Anderson and Langston Hughes. Fifty years later, Prairie Lights moved into the space and carried on the legacy you can still tap into online. The bookshop is offering free delivery in Iowa City and Coralville, as well as shipping further afield. We'd expect no less in a town home to one of the most famous creative writing MFAs in the world.