What Makes a Great Bookstore?
Everyone has a favorite bookstore—whether it’s a big chain or the corner independent. It’s the place where we discover new books, maybe even wait in line for hours for the latest in our favorite series. I don’t know about you, but walking into a bookstore always brightens my day. So, how do you know if you’ve found a great one?
There’s something special about cracking open a new book surrounded by shelves and shelves of other new books. Bookstores recognize this, and the best of them scatter reading chairs around their shops in a way that says, “Stay! Pick up another book!” While some offer sleek designer office chairs, I’ll admit I’m partial to the worn and comfy variety. One of our local bookstores has a slightly saggy couch of bright orange, but it’s still one of my favorite reading spots there. Bonus points for window nooks too!
Coffee/tea in close proximity
Nothing like curling up with a good book and a warm mug. It doesn’t matter if you’re a tea drinker or coffee aficionado, having a café inside or attached to your local bookstore is like an invitation to play hooky and read all day. It wraps you in warm comfort and makes you feel almost like you’re reading at home, and it’s the perfect setting for group book discussions. I’ve enjoyed many a chai while waiting for author events or diving into my latest purchase.
This is a big one—in my mind, one of the most important aspects of a bookstore. The people who work there must be passionate and informed about books, especially those in the genres you read. This can be tricky for science fiction and fantasy fans, because the genres sometimes get pushed aside or limited in smaller local stores. On the other hand, there are some fantastic genre-specific bookstores.
The best bookseller I’ve encountered works at my local Barnes & Noble. He steers people toward great titles in SFF and middle grade (The Name of the Wind, The Emerald Atlas, and pretty much anything by Garth Nix), and he offers customers a further list of his personal recommendations at check-out. I make a point to check in whenever I can just to see what new reads have crossed his radar lately, and I love that he’s helping to grow the SFF fandom! It’s amazing what dedicated booksellers can do for the publishing industry and for readers.
Depending on where you live, this can be a challenge, which is why I’m so excited whenever I find a local shop that does bring in big name authors. One place not too far from me has worked hard to become the place in our city for fantasy authors, with readings and events by Sanderson, Rothfuss, Mary Robinette Kowal and others. You can bet that’s made it one of my favorite go-to bookstores. Launches are another example of how a bookstore can really stand out. Great stores make the difference by not only hosting events, but hosting excellent ones, where the audience is engaged, things run smoothly, and there are fun supporting activities too.
Sounds like a no-brainer, but it’s harder to pull off than it seems. All too often, I walk into stores only to learn the title I want is out of stock or that the next book in the series is missing from the shelves. (Though every other book in the series is there. Most annoying thing to a reader EVER.) The best bookstores are the ones where this is never a worry. They carefully monitor their inventory and if—bite your tongue—they’re out of a title, they’re savvy enough to order it for you right then and there.
Fellow book lovers
I love running into fellow readers in bookstores! That awkward-giddy moment when you see someone considering a book you’ve recently enjoyed, and you just can’t help but gush about it (even if it half frightens them away)? Priceless. I’ve discovered new titles this way and engaged in a few interesting debates around the bookshelves. I like a bookstore that creates an environment where that sort of reader interaction is possible.
Décor and ambiance
True confessions: I dream of someday owning the library from Disney’s Beauty & the Beast (don’t we all). But until then, I adore bookstores that add a touch of ambiance. Cozy nooks and corners. A sense of magic or adventure. I like to feel I can escape into the books there, rather than feeling like I’m researching in a dusty college library. Though, trust me, some of those are pretty incredible too! A few bookstores I’ve visited have the air of an antique manor. I love it, because I’m surrounded by stories while the store itself feels like yet another story to unwrap!
Where do you like to do your reading in bookstores? What’s been your favorite experience at a bookstore event? Any bookstore traits I missed? Sing the praises of your favorite bookstores in the comments! I’m always looking for new shops.