Western Canada’s biggest city is a browser’s paradise for rainy-day bookstore fans – and several intriguing new shops have cracked open their covers here in recent years, adding to a bulging bookcase of older independent favorites loved by dog-eared locals. Need some rainy-day refuges? Check out Vancouver's best bookstores.
Bucking the idea that print is finished and e-reading reigns supreme, Vancouver’s wave of new edition bookstores gathered pace with The Paper Hound. Opened in 2013, this small, edge-of-downtown emporium is an inviting bolthole lined with shelves brimming with used volumes reaching almost to the ceiling.
Well organized into eclectic categories ranging from 'Indomitable Orphans' to 'Rants and Incendiary Tracts,' the store’s cleverly curated collection lures general interest book fans as well as those hip readers who crave attractive, tactile tomes in the same way they love vintage vinyl.
Need recommendations? The friendly staff here has plenty of suggestions for where to browse in-store. But if the rain suddenly relents, make sure you check out the higgledy-piggledy display of bargain books on the rack outside as well.
Main Street meander
Another store with an enticing outdoor bargain rack, tiny Y’s Books is a highlight of Main Street’s independent shopping scene. Step inside for a perfectly cozy stormy weather escape: jazz soundtrack, vintage globes and typewriters and Shmi, the longhaired gray cat who casts a snoozy eye over proceedings from a small box near the antiquarian books.
Used and general interest – from 'Narrative Non-Fiction' to 'Food and Drink' – are the approaches at Y’s. And for such a compact space, they offer a surprisingly comprehensive selection. Where else can you find vintage Ian Rankin novels and technical books on German theater just a few inches from each other?
Chinatown’s secret room
On the Chinatown end of Main, head along East Georgia Street and you’ll soon reach Massy Books. This permanent, two-floored sequel to a pop-up shop that once operated a few blocks away opened here in 2018. And while the larger space means a greater selection of used books – including Vancouver’s best gathering of First Nations-themed volumes – there’s also room for a reincarnated feature that was wildly popular at the old pop-up shop.
Head to the back of the main floor and you may find a bookcase that seems slightly detached from the wall. Push on it and it will swing open to reveal a hidden room where the store’s older editions and rare books are kept. Can’t find the way in? Brush up on your sleuthing skills by pouring over some of the store’s in-stock detective novels – or just ask at the front desk.
Not all Vancouver's best bookstores have opened in recent years, though. In fact, many of the city’s finest page-turners have been here for decades. Local mini-chain Book Warehouse gathered fresh impetus when it attracted new owners a few years back, while three-store, used-book king Pulpfiction continues to lure regulars and hook newbies, especially at its large Main Street branch.
But Vancouver’s favorite used bookshop is right downtown – just a few steps from The Paper Hound. Dominating the corner of Richards Street and West Pender like a one-sided bookend, MacLeod’s Books is a near-legendary treasure trove of jam-packed shelves and teetering tome piles just begging to be explored. Have an hour or two to spare on a pewter-skied rainy day? Fold up your umbrella and dive in.
If generalist browsing seems too time-consuming, Vancouver also has some great specialty bookstores. White Dwarf Books is a brilliant sci-fi and fantasy store; Wanderlust combines travel gear with a huge array of travel books (check out their displays of yesteryear guidebooks); and interior store Vancouver Special has a sidewall bristling with inspiring large-format design books.
But if you have the children in tow, beeline straight to Kidsbooks. This vast, ever-friendly Kitsilano favorite is crammed with titles for every junior age and inclination, from bath-ready picture books to the latest teen-accessible vampire love story. And it’s not just about kids here: there’s also a brilliantly curated boutique selection of books for adults as well.
Beyond the bestsellers
For an alternative take on literature for both kids and adults, hunt down hidden gem Lucky’s Books & Comics. This rec-room-like little space is one of Vancouver’s coolest independent stores. Lined with esoteric storybooks, graphic novels, oddball zines and homemade chapbooks, almost everything here feels passionately original.
Another shop ideal for rainy day hunkering is just up Main at the Regional Assembly of Text. Vancouver’s analogue answer to the death of print, this charming stationery store hosts letter-writing clubs on vintage typewriters and stocks must-have journals and handmade cards. But it’s also a magnet for fans of unique books: browse hundreds of one-off chapbooks in the under-stairs reading room or buy some of the quirky tomes created by the store’s owners – from Make the Most of Toast to One Shrew Too Few. Looking for a one-of-a-kind bookish Vancouver souvenir? You just found it.
This article was written in October 2018 and updated in July 2019