DC Is the Best Bookstore City in the United States

It has every type of independent bookstore. Here's where to go.

July 11, 2023 6:09 am
Books in a bookshelf behind a table of stacked books.
Solid State Books, an independent bookstore in the H Street Corridor
The Washington Post via Getty Images

There’s a brand new bookstore in Takoma Park, People’s Book. It offers 12,000 new books and hosts multiple book clubs. It’s across the street from the D.C. border and around the corner from another bookstore that opened six months ago: House Mouse Books and Vintage, an extremely small bookseller specializing in first editions and curated collections. This bookstore is located .2 miles from Busboys and Poets, a local chain that specializes in children’s literature and books about social justice at their Takoma location. (They have four additional shops in D.C., three more in the suburbs and one in Baltimore). 

And Takoma Park isn’t an outlier. There are multiple neighborhoods throughout the District with multiple independent bookstores, the best of all possible types of bookstore. Head south from the northern tip of the city in Takoma Park to visit Loyalty Bookstore in Petworth, a great indie with local author readings and fantastic story times for kids. Travel a little southwest and stop at Bold Fork Books, a culinary bookstore in Mount Pleasant. In Adams Morgan, one neighborhood south, you’ll find two: The Potter’s House and Lost City Books. There’s also Smash Records, a record store with a few hundred music-related books and zines. Keep going south and you’ll hit Kramers and Fantom Comics in Dupont Circle. Head east towards 14th and U, and you’ll find Big Planet Comics and another Busboys and Poets. You can do this all day — and you should because a bookstore tour is a great way to explore any city, and this one in particular. We haven’t even mentioned most locals’ favorite bookstores: Politics and Prose (the flagship in Chevy Chase is the best, but the Union Market and Wharf locations aren’t bad), Solid State Books on H Street and Capitol Hill Books

All this adds up to a simple, irrefutable fact: Washington, D.C. is the best bookstore city in the United States. 

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Whenever there’s one of those most well-read cities in America pieces, D.C. is always in the top 10. That’s not surprising. But look at the other cities in these pieces: Seattle, Portland, San Francisco — all these cities are much larger than D.C. It’s true that Powell’s in Portland is great and possibly the best (and definitely the biggest independent) bookstore in the country. Same with The Strand in New York City. But in terms of a slate of indie bookstores, perfectly calibrated to the needs and expectations of its small but diverse population? D.C. wins. 

Of course, not every type of bookstore succeeds in Washington, D.C. You won’t find a massive Barnes and Noble here, though you will find their college campus mini-stores at Catholic University and Howard University, and the original-recipe versions of the chain are scattered around the suburbs. Another chain bookstore with a large footprint, Books-a-Million, closed their D.C. location in 2015 — but once again, you can find other locations in further-out suburbs. Amazon closed their brick-and-mortar shop in Georgetown last year (which took over an old Barnes and Noble space). It seems like the only kinds of bookstore that don’t work in D.C. are chain bookstores. 

If you’re searching for the best non-chain bookstores in the United States, D.C’s your spot. And don’t sleep on all of the author readings and signings. Because we’re quite easy to access, most every well known author stops by, especially at Politics and Prose’s flagship on Connecticut Avenue, with bigger names appearing at Sixth & I Synagogue, George Washington University and the DC Public Library’s MLK Jr Library. Outside of the Fourth of July weekend, there is, and was, a reading every night at one of the Politics and Prose locations this month. 

If you’re searching for the best bookstores in the world, it’s possible that D.C. would slip into second place, after Paris. We don’t have any bookstores that allow sleepovers like Shakespeare and Company. At least not yet.

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