Where to Find the Best Independent Bookstores in New England
From day trips to weekend getaways, our biweekly Traveler newsletter shows you the best of New England and beyond.
Author Charlaine Harris once called books “the cheapest vacation you can buy.” We say why not splurge on books and a trip? Sure, the Boston area has plenty of great independent bookstores to choose from, but the whole area has abundant options for you. Wherever you decide to travel in the region, there’s an indie bookstore not too far behind, just begging for you to buy a new stack so you can continue your vacation in the pages of a book long after your PTO is up. Or, if you’re a true bookworm, you might just consider shaping your itinerary around hitting as many bookshops as possible. Consider this your go-ahead to do so, starting with this list of 10 literary pit stops.
This shop’s motto is “books you don’t need in a place you can’t find,” and while it’s hard to say you ever really don’t need books, it’s hard to argue with the latter part. This used bookstore is in Montague, a tiny western Massachusetts town near some better-known Pioneer Valley neighbors, Amherst and Northampton. But once you make your way through the trees and winding road to this shop, you won’t have any regrets. Housed in an 1842 gristmill from which it gets its name, the sound of running water will accompany you as you browse the thousands of books contained within. And with most being half price, you’re guaranteed to come out with your arms full.
Also check out: The bookstore is only one of the businesses you can visit there. Don’t miss the Sawmill River Arts collective and Turn It Up!, a store where you can add your favorite movies and music to your collection. Starved from your bargain shopping? You won’t have to go far: the Alvah Stone Restaurant and Bar is right on the water on the same campus for your convenience.
Open daily from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., 440 Greenfield Road, Montague, MA, mybluehost.me.
If you’re a voracious reader always craving the latest title, this is the place for you. The appearance alone of this indie store is enough to make a bookworm’s heart swoon. Its navy blue storefront looks like something that belongs in Hogsmeade, an effect that only continues inside thanks to its cozy brick archways and shelves of books so tall you need a ladder to reach the top. But even better, this shop allows you to set an appointment for book trades so you can swap your gently used titles for store credit. And if you’re a new reader and have nothing to trade, most items here are marked down so you can get great stories for a steal.
Also check out: Take in all there is to see via two wheels thanks to the Burlington Bike Path. Its eight miles of trails will take you along Lake Champlain, with views of the Adirondacks nearby.
Open Sun. to Thurs. 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. and Friday to Sat. 10 a.m. to 9 p.m., 14 Church St., Burlington, VT, crowbooks.com.
This spot is less a book shop and more a wonder to check off on the literary bucket list. On the Massachusetts/ Connecticut border, you might stop here for a cup of coffee or some diner food on the midst of a long road trip. But instead of ordering dessert, it’s a book that will top you off at the end of the meal. Each traveler gets to browse the owner’s collection and pick three books for the keeping. You might have a harder time making a selection here than you will from the menu.
Also check out: Union is also home to Bigelow State Park, which has 9,000 acres and miles of hiking trails to explore. Work up an appetite here before heading over to the restaurant.
Open Mon., Wed., Thurs. 10 a.m. to 6:45 p.m. and Fri. 9 a.m. to 7:45 p.m., and Sat. to Sun. 8 a.m. to 7:45 p.m., 1257 Buckley Hwy., Union, CT, facebook.com.
If you’re a literature lover, brace yourself. This used bookstore has not one, not two, but three locations in this beachside town. With half a million books and counting, there is simply too much to explore here to be contained in one location. If you’re going to limit yourself and visit only one site, your best bet is the Main Barn, which includes a giant barn of books and several smaller sheds stuffed with everything from literary fiction to one-dollar oddities to new arrivals that haven’t even been sorted. And don’t forget to say hello to the goats and cats living on-site while you’re there. Meanwhile, head to the other two locations—Book Barn Downtown and Chapter Three—if you’re looking for more niche genres. All locations are within a mile of each other so you can hit all three in a single day, losing hours getting lost in their stacks.
Also check out: Downtown Niantic has a number of cute little shops, including Tumbleweed Record Store and Bohemian Boutique, where you can grab everything from some tye-dyed garb to the latest record for your Barbra Streisand collection.
Open daily from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., The Main Barn: 41 West Main St., Book Barn Downtown: 269 Main St., Chapter Three: 55 West Main St., Niantic, CT, bookbarnniantic.com.
An Unlikely Story has a bit of a tale itself. The site was once the home of Falk’s Market, a beloved general store that also served as the pulse of Plainville. The building fell into disrepair and was purchased by Plainville resident and Diary of a Wimpy Kid author Jeff Kinney, along with his wife, Julia. The two tried to salvage the building, but found it couldn’t be saved, so they decided to recreate the idea of a town gathering place, only this time as a bookstore. Today, An Unlikely Story serves up the best in books, café fare, and general tchotchkes. On the upper level, “The Second Story” acts as a community event space. And if you see something interesting in the décor, ask about it: many of the pieces incorporated in the design have a story too.
Also check out: Continue down Route 1A and just a hop, skip, and a jump away, you’ll find the Wrentham Premium Outlets, one of the best malls in the area, if you’re in the mood to do more shopping.
Open Mon. through Wed., Fri., Sat. from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Thurs. from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. and Sun.: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., 111 South St., Plainville, MA, anunlikelystory.com.
Owned by two publishing world veterans, this store stocks a curated selection of novels, nonfiction, poetry, and children’s books based on the latest trends. For some, such a small selection might initially seem like a downfall, but in actuality, it guarantees whatever you pick up will be a great read. And what better way to dive into that new purchase than with a fresh drink? Off the bookshop portion of the store is a tiny café and bar, accompanied by a seating setup alit by a trendy neon sign. Between that and the charming brick exterior, this place is just begging you to throw away your plans to spend the day curled up with a good book.
Also check out: Close to the plaza where RiffRaff lives is Hungry Ghost Press, a tiny little gift shop where you can buy the perfectly strange tote bag or vintage denim jacket to accompany your new book.
Open from Tues. to Thurs. 12 p.m. to 10 p.m., Fri. to Sat. 12 p.m. to 12 a.m., and Sun. 12 p.m. to 8 p.m., 60 Valley St., Unit 107A, Providence, RI, riffraffpvd.com.
You might be in the hunt for a beach read if you stumble upon this shop, but Isaiah Thomas Books and Prints carries much more than bestsellers. This used bookshop carries about 70,000 books from all genres, from art to architecture. But you’ll also find miniature and first edition books tucked in the cozy rows of shelves in this shop. An official member of the Antiquarian Booksellers Association of America, the International League of Antiquarian Booksellers, and the Massachusetts and Rhode Island Antiquarian Booksellers, this shop also has its own storied history: It lives in in an 1860 house now painted bright pink. We dare you to try and miss it as you drive by.
Also check out: After you grab your book, try out one of the Cape’s many breweries. Bad Martha’s Farmer Brewery is a short-ten minute drive away with concoctions with Massachusetts-inspired names.
Open Tues. to Sat. 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sun. 12 p.m. to 5 p.m. Open on Mondays in summer, 4632 Falmouth Road, Cotuit, MA, isaiahthomasbooks.com.
North Conway is a vacation hotspot with tons to do, but you’d be hard-pressed to miss White Birch Books in its distinctive purple, green, and yellow shingled building, complete with a cupola and a front porch. Strut through the porch and into two stories of the latest releases and cat-themed birthday cards (that is, if you’re in the market). In the area for nearly 30 years now, White Birch has cemented its spot in the community thanks in part to their book groups, which include a general one and one for mystery lovers. What better place to go before embarking on a mountain vacation?
Also check out: North Conway has attractions for every time of year. In the summer, visit Diana’s Baths. In the autumn, there’s leaf peeping around Mount Washington and plenty of spots for skiing during wintertime visits.
Open daily 10 p.m. to 5 p.m., 2568 White White Mountain Highway, North Conway, NH, whitebirchbooks.com.
If you’re on the college tour trail or simply visiting western Mass., you can’t go wrong with a visit to Broadside Books. While the area has its fair share of cute, indie bookstores, this shop stands out, and not just because it’s been here since 1974. You’ll find inside your classic selection of books ranging from new releases to write-ups from local authors. But outside under the scalloped blue awning, you’ll find an ARC Cart, AKA a cart with advanced reader copies sold at a discount. Proceeds go to local charities, so you won’t feel any guilt adding to your already ballooning library shopping here.
Also check out: Head over to Smith College and poke around their art museum or botanic garden and pretend you’re walking where famous alumni (like Sylvia Plath) once strolled in their collegiate days.
Open Mon. to Wed. 9:30 a.m. to 6 p.m., Thurs. to Sat.9:30 a.m. to 9 p.m., and Sun. 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., 247 Main St., Northampton, MA, broadsidebooks.com.
Do not be fooled by the name. You won’t find any chickens in this barn, but you’ll find plenty of books. This mega-bookstore near the coast of Maine carries a number of rarities. Annegret and Michael Cukierski founded the shop in 1986 with the intent of it being a part-time hobby, but this store has grown into a year-round spot that carries books on any topic that might tickle a collector’s fancy. Take a drive here to find limited editions, leather bound classics, autographed books, and even some books made of handmade paper. You can also buy or trade books here, or browse their collection of vintage magazines. And don’t miss their antique section as well.
Also check out: Fewer than 40 minutes away is a little park called Acadia. You may or may not have heard of it. This shop is the perfect pit stop if you’re visiting the park or Bar Harbor for the weekend.
Open daily from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Jan. – March and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. from April to Dec., 1768 Bucksport Road, Ellsworth, ME, bigchickenbarn.com.