Elliott Bay Book Company. Photograph by Jane Sherman. 

Ballard

Secret Garden Books

Located on Market Street, Ballard’s Secret Garden has books of all types for all ages. But, as you might surmise from a shop that shares its name with a 1911 children’s novel, the specialty here is on kids' books. Online and in-store

Twice Sold Tales (Ballard)

A satellite location of Capitol Hill’s Twice Sold Tales, this Ballard shop boasts plenty of rare and used books, as well as one resident cat. Online or in-store

Capitol Hill

Elliott Bay Book Company

Quite simply, Elliott Bay (along with Hugo House a few blocks away) is the nexus around which our literary scene orbits, with a sweeping selection, persistently enticing readings (online for now), a Little Oddfellows cafe (currently closed), and a knowledgeable staff. Online and in-store

Geek out at Ada's.

Ada’s Technical Books and Cafe

Named after Ada Lovelace, the nineteenth century mathematician frequently cited as the first computer programmer, Ada’s feels like a particularly Seattle idiosyncrasy: a tech geek bookstore and vegetarian cafe united with admirable nonchalance. Online and in-store

Twice Sold Tales (Capitol Hill)

Capitol Hill’s wonderfully labyrinthine used book space is excellent if you want to find a rare edition (say, a signed copy of The Philosophy of Andy Warhol: From A to B and Back Again for $1,000) or a cheap used copy—or if you want to see one of the shop cats. Online and in-store

Oh Hello Again

This newly opened bookstore, just off the Kaiser Permanente campus on 15th Avenue, specializes in "bibliotherapy," a sort of literary salve. That can include titles of all sorts, from Rumaan Alam's new novel Leave the World Behind to the 1956 kid's book Harry the Dirty Dog. Online and in-store

Horizon Books

The born-again (and again) bookstore on 10th has been a Capitol Hill fixture for nearly 50 years, albeit a subterranean one since 2008. At Horizon print certainly is not dead—but it is tucked away, down a ramp, wedged between a tattoo parlor and yoga studio. Online –Darren Davis

Central District

Estelita’s Library

Seattle’s only currently operating Black- and Brown-owned bookstore started in 2018 (Columbia City’s L.E.M.S. Bookstore remains in flux). But it’ll relocate from Beacon Hill to a new building in the Central District, planning to open in January. In normal times, it functions as a social justice lending library and bookstore. The bookstore aspect is still available via its website. Online (via Bookshop.org)

Columbia City

Clara’s Books

Situated on Rainier Avenue and run by the Freedom Socialist Party, Clara’s sells radical texts, without being too snobbish about what qualifies: Karl Marx, W.E.B. Du Bois, Howard Zinn. Online via Facebook

Clara's Books. 

Image: Stefan Milne

Fremont

Book Larder

If you need to read about food, Book Larder has you covered, be that for a section’s worth of books on pie or a copy of Magnus Nilsson’s latest Fäviken tome. Online or by appointment

Ophelia’s Books

This little Fremont store has staircases that twist between three levels, with plenty of used books on each. There’s also a cat, in non-Covid times. Online (via Bookshop.org) and in-store

Greenwood

Couth Buzzard Books

While a small indoor hangout is less than ideal for the moment, Couth Buzzard Books is in normal times a fine place to while away an afternoon—a bookshop and cafe (currently closed) where the selection is big enough to keep you engaged but small enough to feel cozy. Online or in-store

Madison Books.

Image: Stefan Milne

Madison Park

Madison Books

One of Seattle’s newest bookstores (a sibling to Phinney Books) sits on a quaint, tree-lined street right by Madison Park Beach. Nooks are a must in bookstores, but Madison’s full array of new titles sit in a space small enough to be a nook itself. Online and in-store

Magnolia

Magnolia’s Bookstore

This store in Magnolia Village sits between a bakery and a pizza and pasta place. That makes sense. A kind staff, a small space—you’ll find comfort here. Online (via Bookshop.org) and in-store

Phinney Ridge

Phinney Books

Owner Tom Nissley opened this shop on Greenwood Ave in 2014 after winning Jeopardy! eight times. What is…a small, welcoming space packed with well-chosen books? Online or in-store

BLMF Literary Saloon, Pike Place Market.

Pike Place Market

BLMF Literary Saloon

In some spaces, books piled on the floors and stacked along the windows feel like a mess. At BLMF—short for Books Like a Motherfucker—the crowds of used texts feel, fittingly for a literary saloon, convivial. In-store

Left Bank Books Collective

Here’s a wonderful little friction: After nearly 50 years, the Market’s most visible bookstore is still run as an anarchist collective. It specializes in radical texts—fiction, zines, the occasional manifesto—but carries an array of new and used works. Online and at store window

Lamplight Books

None of the Market’s bookstores is large, but Lamplight’s selection always feels smartly picked. If you can’t find something you’re excited to read in this little shop, that sounds like a personal problem. In-store

Lionheart Bookstore

Though he’s been doing less of it during the pandemic, Lionheart’s owner David Ghoddousi is best known as the bookseller who sings and recites poetry to customers. Currently, you can shop the store’s mostly used books during limited hours (maybe call before visiting). In-store

Pioneer Square

Arundel Books

Pioneer Square’s Arundel Books is affiliated with the small press Chatwin Books. Currently, Arundel sits in a proper brick building and abounds with new, used, and rare books, many of which you need to get on a ladder to reach. In January, it moves to a new location. Online and in-store

Globe Bookstore

This shop is a Pioneer Square mainstay for new and used books. As of January 31, 2021, though, it will move to a new spot on University Way NE. In the interim, the Pioneer Square location is open, or you can order by email at [email protected]. Email or in-store

Mortlake and Company

While plenty of stores might boast “a selection of rare and curious books,” Mortlake and Company, which revels in all manners of esoterica, means it. Whether you’re looking for a limited edition text on Masonic rites, a variety of alchemy zines, or a book on carnivorous plants, this is probably your best bet. Online

Queen Anne

Queen Anne Book Company

At the top of a hill connoting a lofty aloofness, Queen Anne Book Company offers a proper community space and, because it's directly beside Queen Anne Coffee Company, plenty of patio seating where you can argue affably about those books. Online and in-person (as of Dec. 11)

Mercer Street Books

Lower Queen Anne’s little bookstore changed hands this January. Under owner Jessica Hurst, its emphasis has tilted a little—expect more translated literature—but its mission to offer up a highly curated selection just outside Seattle Center remains a constant. In-store or phone for curbside pickup

Third Place Books Ravenna.

Ravenna

Third Place Books (Ravenna)

One of this mini-chain’s three locations. Here, a cafe on the main level and a wood-paneled Mediterranean pub in the basement enrich what makes all Third Places excellent: a solid selection of books and events (currently virtual). Online and in-store

Seward Park

Third Place Books (Seward Park)

One of three Third Place locations. Seward Park’s attached Raconteur cafe has closed, but—fear not—its literary credentials remain: a solid selection of books and events (currently virtual). In-person or online

Magus Books, inside and out.

Image: Jane Sherman

University District

Magus Books

Think used bookstore and you’ll imagine something like this U District fixture of over 40 years, where the tall shelves overflow onto the floor and treasures are everywhere (and generally cheap). Online and in-store

University Book Store

University of Washington students can swing by this 120-year-old fixture for all their purple and gold paraphernalia. The rest of us can stop by for its wide range of titles and always rad clearance tables. Online and in-store

Wallingford

Open Books: A Poem Emporium

One of the only poetry-only bookstores in the country. You’d figure a space the size of a decent home library couldn’t hold enough books to hold your attention long. Fear not: Poetry volumes are slim. Online

West Seattle

Paper Boat Booksellers

Opened in 2019 by a married couple (he a former bassist in Modest Mouse, she an interior designer), Paper Boat is West Seattle’s lone bookstore for new titles, which rounds out its shelves with events and book clubs (virtual, for now). Online and in-store

Pegasus Book Exchange

West Seattle’s longtime (mostly used) bookstore has recently reopened by appointment, but it’s also approximated browsing online by posting pictures of its shelves to Instagram and offering curbside pickup or delivery. Not exactly efficient, but it recreates one of the joys of brick and mortar—wandering. Online and in-store by appointment


A note about this list: These are independently owned, general interest bookstores with physical retail locations in Seattle (though during the pandemic some may not be open in-person—see websites for current hours). The list does not include stores that are exceedingly niche or focus on things other than books, or types of stores so prevalent that they’re worthy of their own list (i.e., comic book stores). Notice a store that should be on this list? Let us know at [email protected].

Need something to read? Check out our Big Seattle Reading List

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