Old Town Books. Photograph by Matt Carr.
Independent bookstores have staged a comeback amid the pandemic, despite the all-consuming power of Amazon—and this area has some of the best indie bookstores around. washingtonian rounded up 21 independent bookstores to check out for a late-summer read. Many stores are still requiring masks, so make sure you bring one before you go.
Bards Alley Bookshop
This woman-owned bookstore in Vienna doubles as a wine bar and carries a wide selection—the owner, Jen Morrow, chose the name “Bards Alley” to bring to mind Shakespeare and Harry Potter’s Diagon Alley.
Bold Fork Books
Bold Fork Books is a culinary bookshop in Mount Pleasant owned by former DC restaurant workers. If you’re looking for a cookbook or food-focused book, you’ll find it here.
Bridge Street Books
Bridge Street’s tiny space in Georgetown is packed with books on politics, cultural studies, poetry, and philosophy. You’re not going to find the latest young adult rom-com, but fans of literary criticism would be happy here.
Busboys and Poets
Busboys and Poets is a popular progressive bookstore and restaurant that bills itself as a community gathering place for artists, writers, and activists. Busboys and Poets has nine locations across the DMV and hosts weekly open-mics and events where you can learn how to get involved in politics and organizing.
Capitol Hill Books
This well-known bookstore stocks a variety of new, used, and rare books. Capitol Hill Books also offers “grab bags:” Just fill out the form here to tell the staff a bit about yourself, and they’ll put together a stack of books they think you’ll enjoy.
East City Bookshop
Founded by a mother looking to provide a community space after her neighborhood bookstore closed, this Capitol Hill bookshop is known for catering to book lovers of all ages. Aside from the usual book clubs and author events offered at many indie bookstores, East City also organizes community partnerships that allow customers to directly purchase and donate books from an organization’s wish list.
Harambee Books & Artworks
Harambee—which means “working together” in Swahili—stocks hard-to-find classic literature by and about people of African descent. Based in Old Town Alexandria, Harambee also stocks traditional African clothing and gifts.
Hooray for Books!
This store in Alexandria is focused on children’s books but also offers popular young-adult novels and a curated collection of books for adults. It’s known in the neighborhood for offering weekly story times.
This longtime retailer in Dupont Circle boasts being the first bookseller in DC to also double as a café. Now, the bookstore offers a restaurant, bar, and even a barber shop. If you don’t have time to browse the shelves and get a haircut, Kramers sends book deliveries in an hour or less through Postmates and UberEats.
Lost City Books
Lost City—formerly known as Idle Time Books—sells used, rare, and out-of-print books, making it the perfect place to find a one-of-a-kind read. The multi-floor space is located in the heart of Adams Morgan.
Loyalty Bookstore was founded by a Black and queer bookseller and specializes in diverse books, seeking to center the voices of marginalized communities. The store’s Petworth location is open for walk-in shopping, but the Silver Spring location is currently appointment-only due to the pandemic. Among its events, the store hosts Drag Queen Storytimes.
This Black-owned and family-run bookstore originally started out online and is dedicated to books written for, by, and about people of the African diaspora. They have since opened two physical locations—one in Anacostia and one in National Harbor—where book lovers can find works by A-list writers, new voices, and local authors.
Old Town Books
Old Town Books in Alexandria is woman-owned and features a wide selection—plus a resident shop dog, Scout. The business also has a pop-up location called Old Town Books Juniors, which focuses on young readers.
One More Page Books
Visit One More Page Books in Arlington if you’re looking to shop for chocolate and wine alongside a good book—or if you’re hoping for a picture with a cutout of Barack Obama, who visited the store in 2012.
Politics and Prose
A DC institution, Politics and Prose is famous for attracting A-listers—Barack Obama to José Andrés—to its author events, which are offered at least once a day. If you have a question about a book, ask any of the incredibly knowledgeable staff in the three locations throughout the District.
Sankofa Video, Books & Cafe
Sankofa is named after an internationally-acclaimed film produced by the bookstore’s founders about a Black model who travels to the past and becomes part of a slave rebellion on a plantation in the West Indies. Located across from Howard University, the store specializes in books and videos by and about people of African descent.
Known for its friendly and helpful staff and owned by a former librarian, Scrawl offers books for all ages. The bookstore also has a list of local teacher wishlists, which you can donate directly to by buying books on the list on-line or in-store.
Solid State Books
Solid State Books is a Black-owned bookstore on H Street Northeast known for its cozy kids corner, where children can read and play while adults grab a drink from the coffee bar.
Second Story Books
This Dupont Circle landmark is one of the largest used and rare bookstores in the world—and it covers “everything from 50-cent paperbacks to really obscure and expensive antiquarian material,” a manager told washingtonian in 2015. Most of the books are consigned, so you probably won’t find the latest must-reads here, but if you wind your way through the maze of shelves, you’ll likely find a gem. Make sure you check out the carts on the sidewalk for deep discounts. Second Story also has a warehouse in Rockville that offers over half a million books.
This nonprofit Adams Morgan cafe and bookstore is the definition of a community space, offering pay-it-forward programs where you can buy meals, masks, and supplies for neighbors in need and books for incarcerated individuals. Events focused on community care are also offered at Potter’s House, such as workshops on the healing power of poetry. True to its mission, the store specializes in stocking books on social movements, justice and equity, cultural studies, and spiritual traditions—as well as fiction, children’s books, and more centered on multicultural voices.
Located in Georgetown, The Lantern sells donated books, prints, and other media to fundraise for scholarships at Bryn Mawr College, an all-women’s liberal arts school in Pennsylvania. The store is run entirely by volunteers, many of whom are Byrn Mawr alumnae in the DC area.