In a time when books are being banned and removed from shelves, it’s never been more crucial to support independent bookstores. Philadelphia, thankfully, is not short on these gems, owned and staffed by book lovers ready to help you find your next favorite read. Whether you’re looking for a page turning thriller, a thick fantasy tome, an emotional memoir, or a scintillating summer read, you’re in good hands at these great bookstores in Philly.
You might find yourself getting book recommendations from TikTok instead of glossy magazines, but there is no shortage of stories to be contained within bound books. If you’re looking for some fun things to do in Philadelphia, consider bopping into one of the great Philadelphia bookstores below to seek out your next great read, or any other kind of fun merch.
If you do your book browsing online, you can support many of these local shops through sites like Bookshop.org and Libro.FM (for audiobooks), who use a profit-share model to support the indie of your choice.
Best bookstores in Philly for new books
A Novel Idea (South Philadelphia) Couple Christina Rosso-Schneider and Alex Schneider opened a Novel Idea opened in 2018 as a literary hub to support the South Philly/Passyunk Square community — and as an homage to the neighborhood where they had their first date. Pop inside the handsome, vintage-feeling space to browse through thousands of books, plus tote bags and a smattering of gift items, many by local artists. Their extremely explorable shelves draw you to unexpected titles, including newly released fiction, inclusive children’s books, the latest for young readers and nonfiction galore. Keeping its community-centered mission in mind, A Novel Idea has devoted a section to local authors and small presses. If diving into a murder mystery rom-com this summer sounds interesting, they recommend Four Aunties and a Wedding by Jesse Q. Sutanto. 1726 E. Passyunk Avenue
Big Blue Marble (Mount Airy) In the heart of Mt. Airy, this eclectic shop offers a diverse range of fiction, nonfiction, poetry, cookbooks and, coming soon, a remodeled kids section and a second-floor reading room. Dedicated to getting books into the hands of readers, Big Blue Marble offers a delivery service for those who are homebound or isolating due to the pandemic. Their online store only displays a selection of their full stock. 551 Carpenter Lane
Black and Nobel (South Street) In addition to selling personal wellness products like sea moss, this beloved South Street shop also carries dozens of books by Black authors, including children’s books, urban novels and non-fiction selections — all carefully selected. Black and Nobel is also able to send books to inmates in most prisons to ensure everyone has access to great books. If you stop in, Sage recommends Think and Grow Rich: A Black Choice by Dennis Kimbrow and Napoleon Hill, to learn the secrets of success used by influential Black American icons. 410 South Street
Hakim’s Bookstore & Gifts (West Philadelphia) Located on West Philly’s bustling 52nd Street corridor, Hakim’s has been an essential source for adult and children’s literature for more than 70 years — and is one of the city’s oldest Black-owned bookstores. The store was founded on the belief that it is crucial that African Americans read to better understand Black culture and history. Today, most of the books in the shop are written by Black authors, and center Black culture and history. Hakim’s also supports currently incarcerated community members by shipping to prisons. This summer, the Hakim’s Bookstore and Gift Shop family suggests you pick up Egypt On The Potomac by Anthony Browder, a dive into the “hidden history” of Washington D.C. and its relationship to ancient Egypt. 210 S. 52nd Street
Harriet’s Bookstore (Fishtown) Jeannine Cook named her sanctuary-like Fishtown shop after Harriett Tubman. Harriett’s celebrates women authors, artists and activists through their stock list and events — Whiskey Fridays, major launch parties, Sunday gospel shop days, meet-and-greets with Trapeta B. Mayson, Lorraine Cary, Nikole Hannah Jones. Inside, you’ll find a wide range of fiction and nonfiction titles, mostly, but not all, written by women. You’ll also find what Cook describes as foundational texts — the works of Zora Neale Hurston, Alice Walker, Toni Morrison and Octavia Butler.
Keep up with the store’s calendar for ways to go beyond books through author talks, workshops and educational opportunities. When you leave, be sure to snag a “Well-Read Jawn” tote to carry home your new reads. And, when you’re on the other side of the Delaware, check out their sister store, Ida’s Bookshop, in Collingwood, New Jersey.
Cook herself is spending the summer in St. Paul de Vence, France, reading as much James Baldwin as possible. To start at the beginning of his oeuvre, she recommends: Go Tell it on the Mountain, or, to continue, The Fire Next Time, film criticism The Devil Finds Work, essays of Nothing Personal or poetry in Jimmy’s Blues, or fiction: If Beale Street Could Talk or play, The Amen Corner. “He even has one children’s book, Little Man Little Man, she says. 258 E. Girard Avenue
Headhouse Books (South Street) Bordering Society Hill and Queen Village, this bookstore has been a staple for readers since 2005. The team here takes great care in curating the most in-demand titles, but if you prefer to plan your next read ahead, start on Headhouse’s website, and browse through their lists, which include antiracist education, gift guides and self-help. The store carries both fiction and nonfiction books for young and older readers alike — and hosts a rich events calendar of author readings and children’s story times. Headhouse’s nearly elegant gift and card selections are on point too. Owner Richard De Wyngaert’s summer reading recommendations in fiction: White on White and Trust; in nonfiction: The Power of Crisis: How Three Threats — And Our Response — Will Change the World and American Founders. 619 South 2nd Street
Neighborhood Books (Graduate Hospital) Tens of thousands of secondhand books make up this store’s spectacular collection. Inside the Neighborhood Books, you’ll find a wide variety of fiction, covering most sub-genres as well as children’s and picture books. You’ll also find a smaller collection of nonfiction titles, including self-help and science books, plus author-inspired t-shirts and local art. 1906 South Street
Philly AIDS Thrift @ Govanni’s Room (Washington Square West) This Gayborhood landmark, named for the iconic James Baldwin novel, is one of the oldest LGBTQ+ and feminist bookstores in the country. Inside, on the first floor and up a winding staircase, you’ll find thousands of queer titles and magazines, of course, but also art, movies and music — curated by Philly AIDS Thrift, the shop’s relatively recent owner-operator. Even if you’re only passing by, you’ll want to stop and check out their window displays, which provide an everyday presence and representation of Philly’s LGBTQ+ community. 345 South 12th Street
The Spiral Bookcase (Manayunk) Founded 12 years ago, The Spiral Bookcase is a unique Manayunk institution that can be described as “strange,” “quirky,” “wild,” and even “delicious,” though that last one might have come from the retired bookstore cat Calliope. Stocked with books on wellness, sociology, and witchcraft, they offer their wares on a sliding scale of cost to BIPOC customers as part of their many efforts to uplift and support their community. The store is a safe space that supports marginalized voices in publishing and contributes to mutual aid and reparations whenever they can. In addition to unusual books, you can also attend the magical book club, full moon salons, typewriter poetry pop-up events, and more. 4257 Main Street
Uncle Bobbies (Germantown) Combining good coffee and great books, Marc Lamont Hill’s Uncle Bobbies has become a community staple for book lovers in Germantown. Head inside to order from their full coffee bar, complete with snacks and tasty lunch items. Then, browse the shelves for the latest in fiction and nonfiction, with a special spotlight on Black authors and books. Grab your book and coffee to go or curl up in the cafe to read and people-watch. The community has worked hard to keep the doors of this local gem open after multiple instances of vandalism. 5445 Germantown Avenue
Best Philly bookstores for new + secondhand books
Bindlestiff Books (West Philadelphia) This West Philly bookstore is volunteer-run and carries a range of secondhand and discounted new books. Their stock of fiction, nonfiction, graphic novels, children’s books and more are all carefully selected with Baltimore Avenue readers in mind. On their website, you’ll find lists of recent bestsellers to help guide your to-be-read list and relevant articles about the book and publishing world. In addition to helping you grow your personal library, the store hosts authors talks, where you can meet and learn from the writers you love. 4530 Baltimore Avenue
House of Our Own Books Step inside this stylish Victorian house in University City to be instantly transported to the scholarly bookstore of your dreams. House of Our Own specializes in new and used books on cultural studies, history, literary criticism and political science. This is a place to shop in-person, with two full, well-organized stories to hang out and savor a good read. There’s a website, too, but only a small selection of their inventory is online. 3920 Spruce Street
Mostly Books (South Philadelphia) This overwhelmingly large — 5,000 square foot — warehouse inside a series of 19th-century stables is stacked with new and secondhand books — 50,000 of them — as well as movies, music and photographs. Bring in once loved books and CD’s to trade for in-store credit. Not surprisingly, the extensive selection spans genres. Prepare to get lost in the stacks as you browse this massive collection of books. 529 Bainbridge Street
The Head and the Hand (Kensington) This sunny Kensington bookstore was truly designed with book nerds in mind. The Head and the Hand is a nonprofit, neighborhood-run, grant-funded publisher and bookstore selling new and used fiction, nonfiction, middle grade, and local authors. The venue also hosts an array of local writing workshops, arts programming and author talks. And the best part? You can have the entire book store to yourself. Snag one of their date night packages where for $85-100 you and a partner can enjoy a BYOF (bring your own food) date in the stacks. The staff will provide the wine. If you’re looking for a new author to fall in love with, they recommend Woman of Light by Kali Fajardo-Anstine, a “sweeping historical epic that centers on an Indigenous Chicano heroine in turn-of-the-20th-century Colorado.” 2230 Frankford Avenue
Best spots in Philly for secondhand books
Book Corner (Fairmount) Run by the Friends of the Free Library, tucked behind the Parkway Central Branch on the Ben Franklin Parkway, this thrifty shop gives once loved books the chance to find a second home. The price is right too: Their thousands of books cost $3 or less across all genres, making finding something worth adding to your reading collection all but inevitable. Come to browse the aisles and find a title you love, or, bring books that you’re ready to part with to donate. Proceeds from the store help to support and advocate for Philadelphia’s libraries. 311 North 20th Street
Book Haven (Fairmount) Just down the block from Eastern State Penitentiary, you’ll find this cozy shop where the friendly staff includes two very fluffy cats. A huge collection of secondhand books comprises classics and modern memoirs — if you’re lucky, with some notes in the margin from a previous owner. 2200 Fairmount Avenue
The Book Trader (Old City) When you first walk into this secondhand shop in Old City, you may be overwhelmed by the high shelves and seemingly never-ending book piles. But it doesn’t take long to find order in the system. Browse through thousands of once-loved books, organized by genres. And, if you have books to part with, trade them in and use that credit to shop to buy books they have in stock. Most books are accepted, and any books they can’t take will be donated to Books Through Bars and local libraries. If music is your thing, head to the second floor to explore their record room. 7 North 2nd Street
Molly’s Books & Records (South Philadelphia) The Italian Market shop has a small footprint, but features one of the most tightly and knowledgeably curated book collections in the city. Its strong Bohemian sensibility means cult, pulp, occult, sci-fi and generally left-of-the-dial selections are well represented, as well as poetry selection and a terrific children’s book selection, with a kid-friendly nook to browse. Beyond that, it has a comprehensive food and cookbook section. Molly’s Books shares shelf space with a smaller but similarly tight vinyl collection with deep dives in 45rpm singles of all genres. 1010 S. 9th Street
MORE ABOUT PHILLY & BOOKS FROM THE CITIZEN
A Novel Idea