10 Women-Led Bookstores Across the U.S.
Find your next great read from one of these female-founded shops.
It may come as a shock to learn that, according to the United States Census Bureau, in 2018, women-owned businesses made up only 19.9 % of all businesses that employ people across the country.
If you’re shaken up by that fact, take heart in knowing that number, however modest, is growing—signifying the beginning of an era helmed by bold, fearless women looking to make a mark. Women from every corner of the globe are standing up and demanding an equal seat at the table as they come up with new, revolutionary ways of being, doing, and making. These are the women who live to inspire, unite communities, and bring people together, and we’re in awe of all that they do.
The Census also revealed that the highest rate of growth for women-owned businesses is in the arts, entertainment, and recreation sector. Curious to learn about the latest women-created enterprises? In honor of Women’s History Month, we’ve rounded up a list of our favorite women-owned bookstores. So take a look, check out a new book or two, and start supporting an independent, woman-owned business today.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
New Mexico’s Nob Hill area was in a state of decline. Its walkability had tanked drastically after a failed city-wide project and COVID made things even worse, placing many local businesses in a state of restless anxiety. That began to change with Robin Babb, the founder and owner of Harvest Moon Books. As a local writer, she was a firsthand believer in the power of books and its ability to change lives. Babb took Nob Hill’s challenges as an opportunity to revitalize the area and opened Harvest Moon Books in 2019. The independently-owned space has since become known for its “unabashed agenda to promote the work of queer, POC, and Indigenous writers,” and also features a walk-in greenhouse with plants for sale.
Jersey Shore, New Jersey
Isabelle Carlo noticed there weren’t many places around town to swap paperbacks, the kind of books you couldn’t find at local libraries. Frustrated with the lack of a community space dedicated to good literature, she decided to take matters into her own hands. Carlo opened PBX Books in Central Jersey in 1977 and has been dishing out books like hotcakes ever since. Carlo passed on the operation to Sharon Sanford in 2019, who continued to uphold her dream of keeping PBX Books as a community space. PBX has grown quite a bit since its beginnings, evolving into a mecca stocked with works by local authors alongside classics from every genre.
Located in Athens, Georgia, Avia Bookshop was founded by Janet Geddis. As an entrepreneur, essayist, and public speaker, Geddis was always focused on how she could better serve her community. With only one other used bookstore in town, Geddis felt a need to fill the void in Athens. She opened Avid in 2011 and has been delighting locals with her curated works ever since. “As the country has become more fraught, Avid booksellers have become more outspoken about standing up for human rights, equality, and the freedom to read,” Avid’s website says. “[We] are more devoted than ever to sharing diverse voices with our customers.”
Manhattan, New York
Nestled in the heart of Manhattan’s Chinatown is Yu and Me Books, a bookstore devoted to celebrating the stories of immigrants across America, with a particular focus on Asian Americans. Owner Lucy Yu was only 27 years old when she opened the shop in December 2021, which also happens to be NYC's first Asian American woman-owned bookstore. Yu wasn’t a huge literary devotee by any means—she’s actually a chemical engineer by trade. Her drive to open Yu and Me Books came from a desire to create a space where everyone could feel at home, a space where representation truly mattered. Yu and Me also offers coffee, beer, and wine, creating the sort of peaceful ambiance where it’s hard to tear yourself away from the generous selection of books by Asian American, Black, Indigenous, and Latinx authors.
Owner Melissa Haffeman has put a lot of work into making The Islander Bookshop a remarkable place. For starters, The Islander reflects the heritage and culture of the Indigenous people in the area. In this case, that’s the homeland of the Alutiiq/Sugpiaq people, one of eight Alaska Native peoples. Haffeman is passionate about filling the shelves with their works and is also devoted to keeping her community happy—she routinely stocks books requested by readers and offers a special ordering system. Her love for the community goes beyond books, though. The bookstore also showcases goods made by local artists. It’s a warm, communal space where you can stop by for a good read and a hot cup of tea at any time.
This Birmingham-based bookshop doesn’t just have one female owner—it’s owned by three women, all of whom are friends: Laura Lilly Cotten, Elizabeth Goodrich, and Kristen Iskandrian. The trio came together over a shared dream of creating an independent, community-focused bookstore. They envisioned a place that would focus on stocking the finest literature available while hosting authors to share their works, the kind of venue they hoped would become a staple in their community. Today, Thank You Bookshop is just that. It’s a warm, friendly book haven that hosts in-person author events as well as virtual readings. Cotten, Goodrich, and Iskandrian pride themselves on having a devoted fanbase that hails not just from their neighborhood, but all across America.
Empowering women and underserved communities is The Little Market’s main objective, a fairtrade nonprofit shop co-founded by Lauren Conrad and Hannah Skvarla. That’s why Zacapa Rum partnered with The Little Market, as Zacapa has worked with Guatemalan artisans since 1976, empowering local communities to improve their quality of life while providing a steady source of income. Over 700 craftswomen hand-weave the petate bands that adorn every bottle of Zacapa No. 23 and Edición Negra. A fair trade indeed.
In a perfect world, far more book stores would be like Harriet’s. Harriet’s is an independent, woman-owned bookshop that also focuses on highlighting works from female writers, activists, and artists. It’s owned by writer and educator Jeannine Cook, a longtime Philly native who named the store after her inspiration, Harriet Tubman. Cook’s dream—to bring more Black culture to Philly—was simple enough. Yet the reality of opening a store in Fishtown, an area known for its gentrification, proved to be challenging, with many advising her against it. Luckily, it didn’t deter her one bit, with half of Cook’s stock selling out within two weeks of opening.
Bayonne, New Jersey
Sandra Dear couldn’t help but notice that kids and adults alike were constantly glued to their phones. She felt like the magic of printed words was fading away slowly before her eyes. Dear had worked in publishing for over 15 years before she couldn’t take it any longer. Her dream of opening an independent bookstore was too much to contain, and in July 2017, she opened The Little Boho Bookshop in Bayonne, New Jersey. Events ranging from local artist pop-ups to birthday parties can always be found under Little Boho’s cozy roof where all are welcome. Did we mention the store’s online inventory contains over seven million titles?
Writer Nina Barrett moved to Evanston, Illinois, in the late 1980s. She spent her time writing while raising two children, yet was still able to create the kind of high-caliber work that earned her three James Beard award nominations and two awards in 2012 and 2013. Riding high on success, Barrett finally took the plunge and opened Bookends & Beginnings in 2014, the bookstore she’d been dreaming of with her husband, Jeff Garrett. Garrett’s background as an expert on rare, specialized library collections and global children's literature helped Barrett turn the space into a “speakeasy for books,” hosting a collection of works spanning 48 languages—including Māori, Basque, and Kurdish.
Bronx, New York
As the self-proclaimed “official bookstore of Wakanda and the Bronx,” The Lit Bar in New York City has a pretty remarkable history behind it. Despite being home to some 1.4 million people in 2014, the Bronx only had one bookstore—a Barnes & Noble outpost that was scheduled to shut down soon. Bronx native and resident Noëlle Santos rallied some 3,000 protestors to save it, but it finally shuttered in 2016, leaving the neighborhood without a single bookstore. But Santos never gave up. She continued to rally her neighbors and opened her own shop in 2019 called The Lit Bar. It’s still the only brick-and-mortar bookstore serving the Boogie Down today. Santos, however, likes to think of it as a bookstore, wine bar, and community center rolled into one.