Where do you go to find the pulse of a place?
The local bookstore is as good a place as any. Cheaper than a museum, easier to find than the best local grub, the best indie bookstores are as different as the towns in which they’re located. So here’s a rundown of some of the best bookstores the South has to offer, full of the floor-to-ceiling shelves, squeaky floors and cozy nooks bibliophiles love.
M. Judson Booksellers, Greenville: Downtown Greenville is looking decidedly more literary since the opening of Main Street’s only bookstore in 2014. The inventory is heavy on cookbooks, fiction and regional authors, plus specialty gifts and novelties for book lovers. There’s also coffee, wine and yummy nibbles to be had.
Hub City Bookshop, Spartanburg: A nonprofit business model means that each book purchased here is an act of good karma. Housed on the ground floor of the downtown Masonic Temple is an extensive collection of literary fiction, nonfiction and regional authors. Look for special displays like staff picks, signed books and indie press titles.
Blue Bicycle Books, Charleston: This former ophthalmologist’s office was Boomer’s Books until longtime employee Jonathan Sanchez bought the store in 2007. Today it boasts 50,000 new, used and rare volumes and plays host every summer to YALLfest, the largest young adult lit festival in the U.S. (The 2020 event featured Veronica Roth, Neal Shusterman, Sabaa Tahir and other big-name authors.)
Malaprops, Asheville, North Carolina: Asheville’s fixture in the buy-local movement opened in 1982 with an inventory heavy in poetry and Southern literature. It has since moved, installed a cafe and added quirky gift items. The center of the store holds staff recommendations with hand-written notes.
The Regulator Bookshop, Durham, North Carolina: A teal blue awning frames the windows of this institution two blocks from Duke University. Inside you’ll find a small section of odd and unusually good books, plus a star-studded calendar of events the store hosts.
Old Books on Front Street, Wilmington, North Carolina: A World War II veteran opened this used book store in 1982, and it’s been family owned and operated ever since. The sheer volume of stacks is something to behold — two miles’ worth, to be exact.
The Book Lady Book Store, Savannah, Georgia: Brick walls, two fireplaces and an antique ladder that reaches the rafters lend charm to this cozy shop in Savannah’s historic district. Packed into the space are 50,000 books in more than 40 genres, with an extensive collection of Georgian and Southern history.
Parnassus Books, Nashville, Tennessee: Co-owned by novelist Ann Patchett (author of “Bel Canto” and “Commonwealth” and many others), Parnassus stocks an extensive selection of fiction, nonfiction, children’s, local interests and arts books, holds hundreds of amazing author events throughout the year and is home to to five (count ’em — five!) shop dogs.
Square Books, Oxford, Mississippi: Founded in 1979, the store has grown into a trio of storefronts located on Oxford’s historic town square. The main store, Square Books, is in a two-story building with a cafe and second-floor balcony; Off Square Books has lifestyle sections such as gardening and cookbooks while Square Books, Jr., is the children’s bookstore. Square Books specializes in literary fiction, books on the American South and Southern writers. (John Grisham is a regular patron).