By BETH J. HARPAZ writing in The Seattle Times
When it's more than just a place to buy books.
A destination bookstore can make you feel like you're part of the community, whether you're grooving on the laid-back vibe at Powell's in Portland, or tuning into the Beltway buzz at Washington's Politics and Prose.
Some bookstores offer literary touchstones, like the wooden chairs signed by writers who've visited That Bookstore in Blytheville, an Arkansas institution frequented by native son John Grisham. City Lights in San Francisco, once a hangout for Beat writers like Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac, draws tourists from around the world.
"Each one of these stores has a unique, distinct personality and approach," said Meg Smith, chief marketing officer for the American Booksellers Association, a trade group for independent bookstores. "You really do see a snapshot of the town and the region in these kinds of fulsome independent bookstores."
Any list of destination bookstores is bound to leave off some favorites. But here are nine noteworthy bookstores around the country that are definitely worth a visit.
Corner of 12th Street and Broadway, near Union Square, Manhattan
Founded in 1927 by the Bass family, which still owns it, The Strand is a New York legend, offering "18 miles of books," including used books for a buck, new best-sellers, rare books and collectibles in every price range, and an entire floor of art books. It's as much a scene as it is a bookstore; customers range from Japanese tourists and East Village hipsters to New York University students and crusty intellectuals who quiz the staff on their literary knowledge. The "treasure hunt" is part of the allure, said Christina Foxley, director of store events. "Our stock is constantly changing. One hour we might have a book, one hour we don't. You never know what you might find."
City Lights Books
261 Columbus Ave., San Francisco; www.citylights.com/
101 S. Main St., Seattle
Politics And Prose
5015 Connecticut Ave. NW, Washington, D.C.
. Even people who've never been here feel like they know the place because many of its readings are broadcast on C-SPAN. "We have a lot of people who come here and the first thing they want to know is, 'Where does the author stand'?" said co-owner Barbara Meade. "They want to have the whole setting they see on television explained to them." January events include the authors of titles like "The Nuclear Jihadist" and "The Speculation Economy," but don't let the "Politics" in the store's name fool you. Readers can find books here in any genre; the store's children's section is especially well-regarded.
Powell's City Of Books
1005 W. Burnside, Portland, Ore.
The Gold Room, the Rose Room, the Purple Room — even with a color-coded map and signs, it's easy to get lost in the labyrinths of Powell's City of Books. And "it's hard to walk out with less than 10 books," said marketing coordinator Kim Sutton. She added that locals love to bring their out-of-town guests in: "They'll say, 'This is my bookstore,' and show them around with a lot of pride and ownership." Powell's claims to be the world's largest independent used and new bookstore; its other locations include three other general bookstores and two specialty stores (Technical and Home and Garden).
265 Aragon Ave., Coral Gables, Fla.,
Some bookstores are crammed with serpentine rows of dusty shelves aching with books — but that's not what you'll find at Books & Books, which has three locations in addition to its Coral Gables flagship. "Our Coral Gables store is built around a courtyard in a Mediterranean-style building and our South Beach store is in a gorgeous Art Deco building," said owner Mitchell Kaplan. The store also has branches in an upscale mall in Bal Harbour and on Grand Cayman Island in the Caribbean. Books & Books hosts 70 author events a month, and the stores' specialties include art, architecture and regional literature, including books about Cuba and Latin America. Both the Coral Gables and Miami Beach stores also have full-service restaurants.
15 S. Dubuque St., Iowa City, Iowa
Thanks to the University of Iowa's famed Writers' Workshop, which has given Iowa City a vibrant literary scene, you never know who you're going to see at a Prairie Lights event. Could be a Nobel laureate like J.M. Coetzee; writer Michael Pollan promoting his new best-seller, "In Defense of Food," or even a presidential candidate like John Edwards, who was in town for the caucuses. "Right place, right time," said Jim Harris, the store owner, when asked to explain how the store has attracted so many bigwigs over the years — from Raymond Carver to Toni Morrison to Junot Diaz. Store events also air on WSUI, a National Public Radio affiliate.
Tattered Cover Book Store
1628 16th St., Denver
Visitors to Denver often go to 16th Street, a mile-long outdoor mall through the heart of LoDo, historic Lower Denver. There, amid breweries and boutiques, near the arenas where Denver's major league teams play and across from the train station, you'll find the Tattered Cover. "We get a whole lot of tourists, along with people waiting for trains and fans hanging out until game time," said spokeswoman Patty Miller. The store has two other locations, but the LoDo location is especially inviting, with cozy nooks, overstuffed chairs and a gas fireplace.
That Bookstore In Blytheville
316 W. Main, Blytheville, Ark.