Dear readers, I absolutely *love* any building that houses large amounts of books, especially bookstores. Walking between towering shelves, running my fingertips along book spines, picking one out at random and flipping through it. I would spend hours in Barnes and Noble if it wouldn’t result in me trying to take home every book on the shelf (I’m a self-diagnosed book hoarder; I’m still waiting on TLC to call me up about my reality show pitch). That said, if I ever find my way into one of these bookstores, I’m positive I’d be far too busy processing how absolutely stunning they were to even consider adding to my book collection. Dear readers, if you liked the first Amazing Bookstores From Around the World post, then you’re in for a real treat with Part 2, because these bookstores truly are amazing.
Shakespeare and Company (France)
First up is the legendary Shakespeare and Company bookstore in Paris, France. This one was brought to my attention by reader Julie Valerie, and boy, am I glad she did! Thank you Julie Valerie!
First opened under the name Le Mistral in August 1951, the English-language store can be found opposite of the famous Notre Dame de Paris. Its owner, an American named George Whitman who found himself in Paris after WWII, opened the store after a talk with his friend, Lawrence Ferlinghetti. That name sound familiar? It should: Ferlinghetti was the founder of another amazing bookstore featured in the first Amazing Bookstores From Around the World post, City Lights Bookstore in San Francisco! Like City Lights back in the states, Le Mistral soon became the hub for bohemian literary culture in Paris, and Beat writers like Allen Ginsberg, William S. Burroughs, and Gregory Corso were known to frequent it.
The name change from Le Mistral to Shakespeare and Company came in 1964 after the death of Sylvia Beach, the owner of the original Shakespeare and Company bookstore. The original Shakespeare and Company bookstore was legendary in the Paris literary community as well as the international literary community, due to its reputation for being the epicenter of the Anglo-American and modernism movements in Paris. Writers like Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ezra Pound, and Gertrude Stein were known to spend their time there, and James Joyce even made it into his office! It makes sense, then, that Beach was the first to initially publish Joyce’s classic modernist novel, Ulysses. The original store was closed in June 1940 due to the Nazi occupation of Paris, and unfortunately never re-opened its doors.
After Sylvia Beach died, Whitman renamed his store to pay tribute to her venture and continue Beach’s legacy of inviting writers to it and encouraging new writers as well. An odd feature to the store is that it has 13 beds in it and Whitman once claimed that 40,000 people have slept inside Shakespeare and Company over the years. Whitman passed away in 2011, and the Shakespeare and Company’s legacy is being continued by his daughter, who is very appropriately named Syvlia Beach Whitman.
OHWOW Book Club (U.S.)
You don’t always have to leave the states to establish an amazing bookstore, and OHWOW Book Club is the perfect evidence of this fact. Located in the West Village in New York City, OHWOW Book Club is an art-book shop, publisher’s outlet, and gallery, all in one gorgeous little 150-square foot space. The brainchild of co-owners Aaron “A-Ron” Bondaroff and Al Moran, the store is an attempt to get back to the hole-in-the-wall gallery and bookshop culture that once thrived in Manhattan, while simultaneously attracting the attention of the 19-to-25 demographic. It features limited-quantity books, consignment pieces, and works done by Bondaroff and the gallery’s friends. Notable friends include graffiti artist Neck Face, Terence Koh, Colin Dodgson, and Dan Attoe.
The store itself was designed by yet another friend of the gallery, architect Rafael de Cárdenas. The design was inspired by classic Navajo patterns, and features pink, black, white, and teal zigzagging shelves and tiled floors. The walls are also covered in silver and orange lightning streaks. For those readers living in Los Angeles, you might be interested to know that Bondaroff and Moran have a gallery (alas, just a gallery and not a bookstore) in West Hollywood on La Cienega.
El Ateneo Grand Splendid (Argentina)
Now this one is just plain cool. Featured regularly as one of the top bookstores in South America and around the world, El Ateneo Grand Splendid is located inside the Teatro Grand Splendid, an Italian opera house. Max Glücksmann, a Jewish-Austrian immigrant and pioneer in Argentina’s photography and film industry, constructed the Teatro Grand Splendid and opened it in 1919. It had a seating capacity for 1,050 people and features ceiling frescoes by Nazareno Orlandi and caryatids sculpted by Troiano Troiani.
The Teatro Grand Splendid operated as a theater until 2000, when it was leased by the Grupo Ilhsa who then renovated and converted it into a book and music shop for a cost of AR$3 million. The bookstore now houses approximately 120,000 different books, most of which are in Spanish though English-speaking visitors can find English pulp fiction thrillers and romance novels, along with a few textbooks. Additional features include theater boxes fitted with comfortable chairs for reading and/or lounging, and live pianist who plays on the theater’s stage in the afternoons.
Cook & Book (Belgium)
This is another neat one that I’m dying to visit and see with my own eyes. Visitors can find Cook & Book in the Wolubilis complex in Brussels, Belgium, and while there enjoy a rather unique experience of being able to pick a book from a shelf and then go and eat a meal…and when I say meal, I don’t mean a croissant or a muffin like you get at the Starbucks attached to Barnes and Nobles here, I mean an *actual* meal. That’s right, Cook & Book is an actual combination bookstore *and* restaurant. Genius!
Cook & Book is separated into two buildings, Block A and Block B, each of which has its own unique selection of books and menus (curious readers can look at the menus here: Block A and Block B). The bookstore features specific sections and rooms for various genres, include fine arts, music, graphic novels, children’s literature, cookbooks (of course), and general fiction, among others. Cook & Book also features a fairly well stocked English section, decorated to look like a British gentleman’s club.
Poplar Kid’s Republic (China)
This is another staple for amazing bookstore lists. Kid’s Republic in Beijing is China’s first specialized picture bookstore, and it aims to provide children and their parents with the very best children’s books from around the world and a relaxing (and very cool!) reading environment. It is operated by Poplar Publishing, a prominent Japanese publishing group.
The store was designed by SAKO architects, and is done up to mimic a brightly colored playground. The walls are covered in bookshelves and round window nooks, which double as reading areas. In addition to housing children’s picture books from around the world, Kid’s Republic also has toys and play areas, making it a haven for visiting kids. Man, kids have all the fun!
Have you ever dreamed about visiting a town filled with books, dear readers? Well, guess what: you can! Hay-on-Wye is a small market town dating back to medieval times on the Welsh-English border which has been the go-to destination for bibliophiles due to its status as a literal “town of books.” There are thirty bookshops within the town, which isn’t too shabby when you consider that only about 1500 people live in Hay-on-Wye. Many of these stores sell secondhand and antiquarian books, making it the largest secondhand and antiquarian book centre in the world.
In addition to its plethora of bookstores, Hay-on-Wye is known for its annual literary festival, the Hay Festival. First started in 1988 and currently sponsored by The Daily Telegraph newspaper, the festival draws about 80,000 visitors every year. The Hay Festival takes place over the course of ten days in the beginning of June.
Livraria da Vila (Brazil)
Here’s another gem from the Southern Hemisphere. The Livraria da Vila, which translates to the Village Bookstore in English, has been located in the same narrow two-story house in São Paulo, Brazil for over 25 years. Designed by architect Isay Weinfeld, the store embraces an open concept floor plan and has atriums on its ground floor so that customers can look down at other floors. Along with this, the store uses books as part of the decor; for example, glass-front bookcases filled with real books serve as the front doors.
In addition to looking aesthetically neat, the bookstore has converted the basement into a children’s section and auditorium used for various cultural events, including lectures, courses, and debates, among others.
Bart’s Books (U.S.)
Back in the states, Ojai, California is home to the largest independently owned outdoor bookstore in the U.S., Bart’s Books. Opened by Richard Bartinsdale back in 1964, it started out as a series of bookshelves out on the sidewalk for passerby could peruse Bartinsdale’s collection. Anyone who wanted to purchase a book simply left money in one of the coffee cans Bartinsdale left on top of the shelves. Got to love a good old honors system-based bookstore!
Nowadays, Bart’s houses nearly a million books, including expensive and rare out of print first editions and art books; customers can also still buy thirty-five cent books on the street using the honor system at any time of day, even when the store is closed. Finally, if the store looks familiar to some readers, it’s because it was featured in the 2010 Emma Stone movie, Easy A.
Chapters Runnymede (Canada)
Renovating and converting old theaters into bookstores seems to be a growing trend! Built in 1927 and located in Bloor West Village, the Runnymede Theatre was the first atmospheric vaudeville theatre in Toronto. The interior of the theatre is designed to give guests the feeling of being in an exotic place; the ceiling is painted blue with white clouds in order to mimic the sky, and the walls are painted with a mural that makes you think you’re in a courtyard.
The theatre was eventually converted into a movie theatre in the 1930s after vaudeville fell out of fashion. It continued to show films up until 1999, when it was converted into a bookstore owned by Chapters, a subsidiary of Canadian chain, Indigo Books and Music.
John K. King Rare and Used Books (U.S.)
Recycling old buildings by turning them into bookstores is a running theme in this list, so it seems only right to end with John King Books up in Michigan. The independent bookstore was started by John K. King in Dearborn, Michigan, in 1965, and by 1971 it had relocated to the Michigan Theatre in downtown Detroit (remember how I said turning old theaters into bookstores was a trend?). The bookstore started outgrowing the theater, however, and in 1983 King purchased the abandoned four-story Advance Glove factory building, which is the store’s home to this day.
All four above-ground floors as well as the basement are in use and open to the public. The store has approximately 1 million books in stock, and among those includes a large collection of rare and used titles. And if that weren’t impressive enough, a few years ago King bought an adjacent office building, where he has set up his own offices as well as a collection of very rare items which can only be viewed via appointment.
Who would’ve thought that there were so many fantastic bookstores! And so many (semi) close to home here in the states! Even with all of these featured in both this post and the first one, this is *still* an incomplete list of all the wonderful bookstores around the world. If any of your favorites haven’t shown up yet, please write me like Julie Valerie did so I can make sure that they are included in the next one.