5 favorite local new and used bookstores
Updated: Sep 9, 2021
My love of bookstores knows no bounds. Whether they sell new or used books, I love them all. The way books are organized, the layout, and the selection matter to me deeply and they tell me something about the people in charge of the store. My favorites are often the ones that invite you to linger a little, have a seat, and flip through the offerings. I’m also partial to reading the staff pick placards and have discovered several of my favorite authors from these recommendations.
While I love exploring bookstores when we travel, there’s nothing quite like visiting a bookstore you know well in your own neighborhood. For those of you who live in the New England area, here are five of my all-time favorite new and used bookstores. If you don’t live in the area, consider checking them out online and purchasing something if you can to help them stay afloat! (You can also always buy from independent bookstores via Bookshop.org if you don’t have a specific store you’re loyal to.)
I’ve often said that if I owned a used bookstore, I hope it would be like Manchester by the Book. Located on the coast of Massachusetts, this shop is a great place to stop on your way to Singing Beach to pick up something to read while you lounge. In my opinion, it’s also worth a special trip though. Plus, it’s dog-friendly (last time I was there) and the owner of the store was the first person to recommend my beloved Gilead to me.
The bookshelves go from floor to ceiling around the perimeter of the store, but there are also shorter shelves and towering stacks of used paperbacks creating a maze of books through the store. When you first enter, you’ll be greeted by a packed, but apparently small store. As you explore, however, you’ll find it goes farther and farther back into the heart of the block. The farther in you go, the less organizational sense the shelves make.
If you’re looking for fiction (which is very nicely organized), stay on the right side in the first room. (I especially recommend perusing the stacks of adorable vintage Penguin paperbacks—I’ve found several treasures in there!) You can even take a seat on one of the many chairs and couches between the shelves as you browse.
If you’re looking for an independent bookstore with a great sense of community and a good selection in a wide variety of genres, Jabberwocky Books is a great pick. They also have an excellent children’s section and a nice variety of cookbooks and magazines if you’re looking for those categories specifically. If you can’t find what you’re looking for on the shelves, they’re happy to order it for you too. I’ve rarely left without a book though.
One of my favorite things about local independent bookstores is that they host literary events regularly for local writers and readers. In addition to one-off events for local authors, Jabberwocky is one of the major collaborators on the annual Newburyport Literary Festival each spring. Typically, this event takes place in person and brings together primarily local authors and those on book tours for new releases. Since the 2021 event was held virtually, however, the selection of sessions was much wider. I attended a few sessions hosted by Jabberwocky myself and they were all great.
If you go to Jabberwocky, it’s worth browsing the other shops in the Tannery building or grabbing a bite to eat at one of the many restaurants downtown (I always recommend the Paddle Inn for a nice meal, but there are tons of great options to choose from).
Listen, we all love a bargain, especially on a stack of books. The Used Book Superstore has long been my go-to spot for used books without breaking the bank. They initially opened in the area when I was in high school in an industrial-feeling commercial space, but they’ve since moved into a cozy spot in Middleton, right across from Richardson’s Ice Cream (in case you want to make a day of it).
Since moving into their current Middleton location (they also have a Burlington store), they’ve greatly improved their organizational system and it’s easy to navigate the store and find the categories you’re looking for. The only section that isn’t alphabetized by last name is the vintage book section, which is fine by me because it’s such a delight to browse.
Prices range based on the type of book (hardcover vs. paperback), age of the book (new vs. old), and quality (excellent vs. okay), but everything’s reasonable and they run sales monthly based on the price sticker colors. I highly recommend subscribing to their email list as well so you get a heads up when a sale’s happening. They do also carry a small selection of new books and they’ll rebuy them at 50% when you’re done reading.
Ever wish you could browse used books while also drinking a glass of wine or a cocktail? If so, this is the bookstore for you! Located right off of the main street in Portsmouth, Book & Bar is such a fun experience. As the name implies, there is a bar in the center of the store with book-filled tables and shelves winding around the perimeter. They do also serve food and have some limited seating, but I’ve only ever gotten a drink there so I can’t necessarily vouch for the dinner options.
As with most used bookstores, the largest section is devoted to fiction (you have to walk around the bar to the other side from the door to find it), but they also have a variety of nonfiction options ranging from historical to gardening. Like Manchester by the Book, there are several spots to grab a seat and flip through the books that interest you. My favorite is the window seat near the fiction section.
Portsmouth also has several great dining options, so I’d highly suggest making Book & Bar either your pre/post-dinner cocktail spot. It’d make a great date night activity.
I’ve mentioned the Bar Harbor location of Sherman’s Books (the oldest bookstore in Maine!) in an earlier blog post, but the Portland location is my actual favorite. There’s a ton to do in Portland in general and this location is right on one of the main streets, so it’s a perfect stop to add to your day. My favorite thing about this location is that they put the staff picks, complete with detailed recommendation placards, right at the front of the store as well as sprinkling them throughout the shelves.
While the physical space isn’t huge, Sherman’s manages to pack tons of books into the store and the fiction section is robust and curated nicely. In general, I’ve been able to find every author I’ve been looking for in the store, but they can also custom order titles for you if you can’t find it in-store. Like many independent bookstores, Sherman’s has a lovely selection of gifts and stationery too.
Because Portland has a vibrant literary scene and is the home to several authors (including one of my personal favorites, Lily King), Sherman's has a great local author section that features lots of signed copies, which is always a fun surprise too.
Do you have a favorite local bookstore? Tell me about it in the comments!