Daily Features

All Booked Up: Five Extraordinary U. S. Bookstores

In celebration of the written word, here are five of our favorite unconventional bookstores from across the country.

By Stela Razzaque, Superscript November 22, 2013

In the world of digital media and online publishing, brick-and-mortar bookstores can sometimes be overlooked as an anachronism. Despite this, we must not underestimate their social significance as community centers and spaces to browse and discover. Wandering through the shelves at your favorite bookstore can mean finding worlds you previously were unaware of, and with a dash of quirky design, perusing the shelves can become an all-day adventure. In the words of Mark Twain, “In a good book-room you feel in some mysterious way that you are absorbing the wisdom contained in all the books through your skin, without even opening them.” Here are five of our favorite quirky bookstores from across the country that inspire us to stroll among the great authors.

The Last Bookstore. Photo: © Omar Omar / Flickr

The Last Bookstore
Los Angeles

Currently occupying what used to be an old bank building, The Last Bookstore is a post-apocalyptic fantasy, according to bookstore owner, Josh Spencer. “What if civilization collapsed and there was one bookstore left, what would that look like? I just let my imagination go.” Spencer told the Los Angeles Times. Some of the quirky design features of the space include chandeliers made from bicycle wheels, a tunnel of books, an art installation where books seem to be flying from the shelves, and a futuristic reading room built in a former bank vault. The maze-like balcony on the upper level has become a popular canvas for local artists who have been given the freedom to treat the aging walls and wooden flooring as a canvas for their artistic expression.

Rizzoli Bookstore. Photo: © Stela Razzaque

Rizzoli Bookstore
New York

The Book

Living with Books Dominique Dupuich
Roland Beaufre

The historic Rizzoli Bookstore has occupied its current location since 1985, and provides a refreshing sanctuary in the heart of bustling Midtown Manhattan. While Rizzoli is a general bookstore and carries books on various subjects, it specializes in books on fine arts and foreign languages. The elegant, neoclassical interior is adorned with cast iron chandeliers, ornately decorated vaulting, and a large Diocletian window that allows views of the city rush. The space is filled with quiet nooks and sumptuous lounge chairs where one can curl up with a great design book. The owners even import daily newspapers from Rome for the store’s Italian clientele.

Baldwin’s Book Barn. Photo: © Cowtools / Flickr; John Rossomando / Flickr

Baldwin’s Book Barn
West Chester, Pennsylvania

The Book

My Bookstore Ronald Rice

The five-story building, built in 1822, that houses Baldwin’s Book Barn was originally used as a dairy barn until the Baldwin family converted it into a bookstore in 1946. The cozy space’s country-chic style is augmented by robust stone walls, a wood burning stove, and old prints and maps, not to mention hundreds of thousands of rare books and manuscripts. Located deep in the heart of the Brandywine Valley of Pennsylvania, this special place has been described as more than a bookstore—it’s an experience. Visitors can expect to be transported to early America, while they browse the rustic shelves of this book-lovers’ haven.

University of Delaware, Campus Bookstore. Photo: © DIGSAU

University of Delaware, Campus Bookstore
Newark, Delaware

The Book

The Art of the Bookstore Gibbs M. Smith

The new bookstore at the University of Delaware provides much more than textbooks for its students. Designed by the Philadelphia-based architecture firm DIGSAU, the store has also created a buzzing urban plaza that promotes community and social engagement. The design concept involved adapting the traditional big-box form of a major bookstore, and reshaping it to serve both the university and surrounding city. The eye-catching facade consists predominantly of textured brick and glass, forming a single-story structure that fits into a double-height glass lobby. This soaring space creates a strong connection with the outdoor landscape and urban context at large.

Bart's Books. Photo: © Snap Man / Flickr

Bart’s Books
Ojai, California

This famous bookstore has been the set of Hollywood movies and has attracted people from all over the world for its unique outdoor setting. People can meander the courtyard and browse books in the open air. It is said that this concept began back in the 1960s when the founder, Richard Bartinsdale, was running out of space for his ever-growing collection of books, and decided to move some bookshelves outside. When the store is closed, patrons drop coins into outdoor coin boxes to purchase the books they want.

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