Find Your Next Read at the Top Bookstores in Philly

There’s nothing like the smell of cracked spines and worn-in pages.

Move over big box retailers. While it may be tempting to order up your next read online or pop into a national retailer, Philadelphia has a number of great independent bookstores to satisfy any reading need.

Stocking nonfiction, new releases, and rare finds that are worth a pretty penny, these bookstores have something for everyone. And beyond all the fun that can come from simply perusing the shelves, many of these shops also host book clubs, author Q&As, and release parties for area book lovers. From Germantown to East Passyunk, check out these local indie shops carrying everything from words on witchcraft to works by women writers.

A Novel Idea

East Passyunk

Alexander Schneider and Christina Rosso-Schneider opened this community-focused bookstore in late 2018 and have supported local writers and small presses ever since by stocking their works and hosting events like author readings and book clubs. The cozy East Passyunk shop has shelves full of everything from new releases, fairy tales, cookbooks, mysteries, feminism, and so much more.

Big Blue Marble

Mount Airy

A bookstore staple since 2005 when Sheila Allen Avelin opened up shop, Mt. Airy’s Big Blue Marble Bookstore has long stocked diverse titles touching on race and racism in America, novels for LGBTQ teens, and nonfiction works about the climate crisis. They got a newly renovated kids room, perfect for young readers to curl up with a book while adults browse the shelves.

The first thing you notice upon walking into The Book Trader is the sheer amount of used books crammed into every spare inch. The second thing is the delightful scent of lovingly weathered pages. This secondhand bookshop dates back to 1975 and stocks every conceivable genre, plus records on the second floor. Don’t forget to say hello to the shop cat.

Brickbat Books

Queen Village

Stocking new and used books and records in Queen Village, Brickbat Books specializes in lovely or rare editions and artfully-created books like a hardcover of John Milton’s Paradise Lost, illustrated by Gustave Doré circa 1885. The inviting window display spotlights everything from children’s books to brand new bestselling novels, easily convincing you to come inside.

Giovanni's Room

Washington Square West

Originally located on South Street, Giovanni’s Room has been a haven for LGBTQ and feminist works since it was first founded in 1973, making it the oldest LGBTQ bookstore in the country. Now run by Philly Aids Thrift and located in the Gayborhood, Giovanni’s Room stocks thousands of new and slightly used LGBTQ fiction, nonfiction, music, artwork, comics, and more. The bookshop fosters community through readings, a book club, and author talks, so get in on the action.

Philadelphia’s oldest Black-owned bookstore was founded by multi-hyphenate scholar, author, lecturer, and publisher Dawud Hakim in the late 1950s and has been going strong for over half a century. Historically, Hakim’s stocked rare works that addressed the history and culture of African Americans. Today, readers are imbued with that history as they peruse through the selection of biographies, children’s books, and historical texts devoted to African American history.

Head House Books

Queen Village

The quintessential image of what you’d picture an indie bookstore to look like—warm, compact, adorned with mahogany bookshelves—Head House Books offers a curated selection of bestsellers, classics, young adult, and buzzworthy new releases, plus the shop hosts popular author events, too. Since its founding in 2005, owner Richard De Wyngaert’s Head House Books has been a place to find the book you didn’t know you needed yet.

This women-run nonprofit book publisher and bookstore recently moved to a bigger space, perfect for hosting authors, community events, yoga classes, and of course, book-loving shoppers. Here is where you can find books from local authors, poetry, short stories, novels, and more. Even better? You can book the entire shop for an extra romantic and extra literary date night.

Occupying two floors of a Victorian house on the edge of Penn’s campus, this more than 50-year-old bookstore carries scholarly and general population books stacked high in piles on the floor and on floor-to-ceiling bookshelves. With so much to sort through, you should dedicate some time to exploring and taking in the delightful scent of books.

Mostly Books

Queen Village

With more than 50,000 used books, DVDs, CDs, and LPs to its name, Mostly Books is an apt title for this shop that truly does have it all. Housed in 5,000 square feet of 19th century workshops and stables since 1997, Mostly Books stocks genres from horror, crafts, spirituality, health, kids, and so much more. While it may be impossible to sort through every title, it could be fun to pick something from their vast stock at random. Bring your old books here to swap for store credit and keep the cycle going.

This Manayunk bookstore was founded more than a decade ago and delights in strange and unusual books and stories—so you bet you can find books on witchcraft, folklore, and tarot decks here. In an effort to uplift marginalized readers, The Spiral Bookcase offers books on wellness, sociology, and witchcraft on a sliding scale of cost to the local BIPOC community.

A leader in the local literary movement since 2017, the bookshop and coffee shop Uncle Bobbie’s works to provide underserved communities access to books and a place to gather. Founder Marc Lamont Hill named the shop after his own uncle (that’s who you’ll see on the sign outside) who inspired his love of reading. In addition to the curated selection of books—including new releases, LGBTQ authors, and works on race, protest, and activism—the shop hosts author talks, community events, and more.

Allie Volpe is a writer based in Philadelphia. She hasn't slept in days. Follow her on Twitter: @allieevolpe.