For many independent bookstores, competing with the likes of digital books and big chains can be a difficult challenge. But independent bookstores offer something truly special. In Virginia, these bookstores are not only surviving, but thriving, offering an intimate experience. Here are the 10 best bookstores across the Commonwealth for when you want to lose yourself between the stacks.
Chop Suey is a Richmond institution. Located on the busy Cary Street in the downtown area, Chop Suey’s firehouse red brick exterior, old-timey hanging sign and large windows radiate cool. Inside you’ll find a deceptively large selection of used books, hand-made notebooks, and graphic novels. Chop Suey has adapted to the changing times by offering experiences unavailable online. Their “Blind Date with a Book,” for example pairs you with a book covered in brown paper and wrapped like a present. You don’t know what you’re getting until you get home. Chop Suey remains one of my favorite places to shop when I’m in the area.
One More Page Books is a locally-owned, independent bookstore in Arlington. In addition to carrying all kinds of books from best sellers to little-known favorites, One More page hosts wine and chocolate tastings, author events, book discussions, and book clubs. Their mission is to become a community pillar through shared love of reading and books.
Hooray for Books! in Old Town Alexandria is an independent bookstore specializing in children’s books and community events. In addition to providing a large selection of books, Hooray! hosts weekly story times on Monday, Wednesday, and Saturday, regular author readings and signings, and game nights.
Hole in the Wall Books in Falls Church, Virginia, is located in a non-descript, blue building on an assuming street. But inside is the type of bookstore that bookworms like me dream about. The floor-to-ceiling shelves are packed with new and used books that overflow onto the floor, the tables, above doorways. More than you could ever read in a lifetime. Comic books in old-school spin racks and long white boxes take up the middle with a special section for graphic novels. When in Falls Church, disappear into the Hole in the Wall.
Sundial Books on Chincoteague Island has been in the independent bookselling business for over 10 years. Sundial Books has wonderful light and a huge selection, taking up two floors, of books, local art, music, and gifts. It’s the kind of store you could easily spend an afternoon in and never get tired of walking around.
AFK Books and Records in Virginia Beach, Virginia, is groovy good. Not only is their 60,000-book inventory impressive, but their selection of over 10,000 vinyl records span every genre. The space is large and colorful with a nice hardwood motif. In addition to books and vinyl, AFK sells comics, manga, audiobooks, turntables, video games, and Blu-rays. Virginia Beach doesn’t have many independent bookstores, making AFK’s success an even more impressive feat.
The Blue Whale Books, located in downtown Charlottesville, has over 20,000 used books in stock. Among them is a healthy selection of antiquarian gems, perfect for the collector in the family. In addition to its impressive book selection, The Blue Whale sells original print, specializing in map recreations from the 18th and 19th century. The inventory is constantly changing, so make sure to stop in regularly to see what’s new.
Prince Books & Coffee House in Norfolk, Virginia, has a classic charm to it. When you’re finished perusing the wide selection of books, including sections devoted to poetry, biography, boating, history, and children’s’ books, stop by the attached Lizard Café for a soup, wrap, and coffee. Local authors are welcome to apply to have their self-published books stocked.
Mermaid Books, near the Historic Area of Colonial Williamsburg, aims to offer a unique experience as well as excellent service and selection. As soon as you walk in, you’ll see that the owners take the mermaid theme seriously. Bronze statues look down upon you as you search the shelves, while mermaid cutouts paper the walls. It’s quirky, but fun, and adds to the charm of this basement used and rare bookstore.
The Sacred Circle in Staunton, Virginia, is an eclectic establishment with a wide selection of books, art, jewelry, music, and gifts. The mission of The Sacred Circe is “to spread unity and peace by encouraging dialogue, understanding, and celebration of diverse backgrounds and traditions.” It’s easy to see this mission in action when one walks into the store and smells the calming fragrances, sees the unity minded bumper stickers, and the Buddha statues scattered amongst the books. First and foremost, however, The Sacred Circle is a bookstore, and a great experience not to be missed.