Los Angeles has been home to many indie bookstores throughout the years, but with the struggling economy and the rise of e-commerce sites like eBay and Amazon – not to mention the growing popularity of e-readers – some of the best independent bookstores have closed down, such as Cliff's Books in Pasadena and Dutton's Books in Valley Village.
Yet many local shops have not only managed to stay afloat, they continue to thrive, especially the ones on our top ten list, below. There are many others that come to mind that we had to leave off, including Iliad Book Shop in North Hollywood; Diesel: A Bookstore in Brentwood and Malibu (and Oakland); Distant Lands in Pasadena and Dawson's Book Shop in Larchmont Village. These stores are also worth a visit, as are just about all indie bookstores in L.A. County, mainly because they're independent.
That said, here are ten of our favorites – one for every need.
10. Best for New Books: Vroman's
The staying power of Vroman's may have something to do with its accessibility: It's a bit like walking into a Barnes & Noble, only much cooler. With two expansive levels, Vroman's space is massive yet well-organized enough to facilitate easy navigation. Along with the requisite books, the store also offers wrapping paper and cards, making it an ideal one-stop-shop for gift-giving needs. There's also an adjacent cafe and a separate little store devoted exclusively to fine writing, gifts and stationery. Vroman's steady roster of compelling in-store readings helps ensure that it's going to be around for years to come. 695 E. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena. (626) 449-5320. Mondays through Thursdays, 9 a.m. – 9 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 9 a.m. – 10 p.m. Sundays, 10 a.m. – 8 p.m. vromansbookstore.com.
9. Best for Used Books: The Last Bookstore
While it's not without its scandals, The Last Bookstore still draws crowds due in part to its stunning in-store design. Publications are cleverly integrated into the space itself, with books forming gravity-defying arches and typewritten scrolls acting as flowing overhead banners. Yet we're talking about the store itself, not its interior decor. There's a huge selection of used material, with 95 percent of the inventory being used books. On the second level, there are about 100,000 items in the $1 section alone. 453 S Spring St., Downtown. (213) 488-0599. Mondays through Thursdays, 10 a.m – 10 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 10 a.m. – 11 p.m. Sundays, 10 a.m. – 6 p.m. lastbookstorela.com.
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8. Best Books on Art and Architecture: Hennessey & Ingalls
Imagine a bookstore with nothing but coffee-table tomes and you've got Hennessey & Ingalls. Actually, that's not 100 percent true – the store also features affordable paperbacks and other knickknacks, but the bulk of the items are heavy volumes about art and architecture. Over ten years ago, the main Hennessey & Ingalls outpost occupied a spot on Santa Monica's Third Street Promenade, but the store has since moved to another location nearby on Wilshire. There's also a modestly sized Hollywood location at Space 15 Twenty, both of which indicate there's still a market for Hennessey & Ingalls' weighty publications. 214 Wilshire Blvd., Santa Monica. (310) 458-9074. Daily, 10 a.m. – 8 p.m. 1520 N. Cahuenga Blvd., Suite 8 (Space 15 Twenty), Hollywood. (323) 466-1256. Mondays through Fridays, 11 a.m. – 8 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays, 10 a.m. – 8 p.m. hennesseyingalls.com.
7. Best Books on Theatre and Film: The Samuel French Hollywood Bookshop
This New York-based retailer is over 180 years old, opening its first L.A. location Downtown in 1929. That store moved in 1947 to a building in Hollywood owned by Samuel French Inc. There used to be more than one local store, including one on Ventura Boulevard in Studio City. Nowadays, there's just the shop on Sunset, but at least it's still around. Samuel French still caters to people in the performing arts and entertainment industry, with countless hard-to-find plays, books on acting and biographies of great filmmakers just a few of the kinds of things you'll find. 7623 Sunset Blvd., Hollywood. (866) 598-8449. Mondays through Saturdays, 10 a.m. – 6 p.m.; Sundays, 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. samuelfrench.com/bookstore.
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6. Best Books on Mystery and Crime Fiction: Book'em Mysteries
People who are into mysteries and crime novels are kind of a class of their own, and Book'em Mysteries caters to a devoted, highly specialized group of writers and fans with a great selection of books from this specialty genre. Interestingly, the history of Book'em itself is tied to a crime as well. Ten months after first opening in 1990, an arsonist burned down the building where the store was located. Using insurance money, Book'em moved a block and a half away to its present location in South Pasadena. The arsonist was never caught. 1118 Mission St., South Pasadena. (626) 799-9600. Tuesdays – Fridays, 11 a.m. – 6 p.m. Saturdays, 11 a.m. – 5 p.m. Sundays, 12 – 5 p.m. bookem.com.
5. Best Travel Bookstore: Traveler's Bookcase
One could easily imagine a 21st century Somerset Maugham or Indiana Jones-type figure hanging out in this travel-themed store and reading room. Priscilla Ulene and Harriet Bay first opened Traveler's Bookcase in 1991, and it was bought by husband-and-wife Natalie Compagno and Greg Freitas in 2007. Far-off adventures await in the travelogues, guide books, international cookbooks, travel lit and other destination-themed publications, with the owners and staff having visited over 100 countries combined. There's also stuff like globes, accessories, antique items and other gift-related goodies that are bound to appeal to anyone suffering from some hard-core wanderlust. Indeed, a visit here is easier than hiking Machu Picchu, riding the Trans-Siberian Railway or sailing on a transatlantic voyage aboard the Queen Mary 2, and much, much cheaper. 8375 W. 3rd St., Los Angeles. (323) 655-0575. Mondays, 11 a.m. – 7 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays, 10:15 a.m. – 7 p.m. Saturdays, 10 a.m. – 7 p.m. Sundays, 12-6 p.m. travelbooks.com.
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4. Best Neighborhood Bookstore: Skylight Books
Skylight Books bills itself as a neighborhood bookstore, and it's easy to see why.The open floor plan, well-lit space and friendly staff invite browsing, with both popular and hard-to-find titles organized into neat little sections, including one for L.A.-related titles in the “Regional” section. There's also a great magazine department, and Skylight has become known in recent years for its excellent in-store readings, signings, and other public programs, too. 818 N. Vermont Ave., Los Feliz. (323) 660-1175. Daily, 10 a.m. – 10 p.m. skylightbooks.com.
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3. Best Book Store by the Beach: Small Worlds Books
Tucked behind the Sidewalk Cafe on the Venice Boardwalk is a gem of a store that's the essence of a local laid-back, seaside vibe. Small World Books has been around since 1969 and it's been at its current location since 1976, so it's safe to say it's not going anywhere soon. The store carries a huge range of books, with everything from poetry and art books to bestsellers and eastern mythology. The store also has a living, breathing mascot in the form of a black-and-white feline appropriately named Conan the Librarian. 1407 Ocean Front Walk, Venice. (310) 399-2360. Daily, 10 a.m. – 8 p.m. smallworldbooks.com.
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2. Best Snacks: Stories Books and Café
Book-browsing can often work up an appetite, but instead of just having an adjoining afterthought of a coffee bar, Stories features a cafe that's part of the store itself. Here, the coffee is fair-trade, and the espresso is hand-roasted by Cafecito Organico in Silver Lake. Baked goods also come from local businesses, topped with artisanal butter and preserves from Laura Ann's Jams. The store dishes out its own savory treats like breakfast burritos, bagels and vegetarian chili, along with an assortment of hot “grab and go” sandwiches as well. But obviously, Stories isn't just about the food. There's a wide variety of new and used books available, especially for a relatively small space. Plus, there's an impressive schedule of author events happening regularly on the book store's own charming patio behind the shop. 1716 W. Sunset Blvd., Echo Park. (213) 413-3733. Mondays through Thursdays, 8:30 a.m. – 9 p.m. Fridays, 8:30 a.m. – 10 p.m. Saturdays, 10 a.m. – 10 p.m. Sundays, 10 a.m. – 8 p.m. storiesla.com.
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1. Best Overall: Book Soup
For nearly 40 years, this iconic indie bookstore has been a landmark of the Sunset Strip, with more than 60,000 titles on everything from agitprop and trashy biographies to poetry, fiction and books on the arts. Originally sandwiched between a head shop and strip club, Book Soup attracts intellectually curious writers, book-lovers, and celebrities with its carefully curated collection of titles, thanks in part to the erstwhile efforts of Tosh Berman, publisher of Tam Tam Books and the son of the late local artist Wallace Berman. In fact, it's the people at Book Soup who have made the store what it is, with employees regularly delivering a great selection of Staff Picks. With a superb series of signings, readings and other events, Book Soup is a hub for locals and visitors alike who are jonesing for a fix of the best drug in the world: reading print. 8818 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood. (310) 659-3110. Mondays through Saturdays, 9 a.m. – 10 p.m. Sundays, 9 a.m. – 7 p.m. booksoup.com.
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