Buy the Book

A Guide to Seattle’s Independent Bookstores

Where to buy literature in a City of Literature.

By Stefan Milne With Sophie Grossman

Elliott Bay Book Company.

Image: Jane Sherman 


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. 

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. 

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 both online and in-person, the newly revived Little Oddfellows cafe, and a knowledgeable staff. 

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. 

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. 

Nook and Cranny Books

Formerly known as Oh Hello Again, this relatively recent addition to the city’s literary constellation is located just off the Kaiser Permanente campus on 15th Avenue, and 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

Horizon Books

The born-again (and again) bookstore on 10th has been a Capitol Hill fixture for over 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.

Central District

Estelita’s Library

This social justice lending library and bookstore started in 2018, and relocated from Beacon Hill to a new building in the Central District in November 0f 2021. All the books on-site are free to read and borrow, while purchases can be made online through

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. 

L.E.M.S. Bookstore

One of the only Black-owned bookstores in the state, L.E.M.S. closed for a time, but reopened in 2019 thanks to a crowdfunding effort that raised over $90,000. The focus remains on books about (and written by) the African diaspora.

Clara's Books. 

Image: Stefan Milne


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 the latest tome from local home cooking titan J. Kenji López-Alt

Ophelia’s Books

This little Fremont store has staircases that twist between three levels, with plenty of used books on each, plus a resident cat. 


Couth Buzzard Books

This spot on Greenwood Avenue is a fine place to while away an afternoon—a bookshop and cafe where the selection is big enough to keep you engaged but small enough to feel cozy. 

Madison Books.

Image: Stefan Milne

Madison Park

Madison Books

This 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. 


Magnolia’s Bookstore

This store in Magnolia Village occupies a spot between a bakery and a pizza and pasta place. That makes sense. A kind staff, a small space—you’ll find comfort here. 

Phinney Ridge

Phinney Books

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

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. 

BLMF Literary Saloon, Pike Place Market.

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. 

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. 

Lionheart Bookstore

Lionheart’s owner David Ghoddousi is best known as the bookseller who sings and recites poetry to customers as they browse the store’s mostly used selection.

Pioneer Square

Arundel Books

Pioneer Square’s Arundel Books, affiliated with the small press Chatwin Books, stocks an abundance of new, used, and rare books beneath stunning vaulted ceilings just down the street from its old location.

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. They’re open by appointment and “by chance,” so don’t bank on getting to browse if you don’t book ahead.

Open Books: A Poem Emporium

One of the only poetry-exclusive 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. 

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. 

Mercer Street Books

Lower Queen Anne’s little bookstore changed hands in January of 2020. 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. 

Third Place Books 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.

Seward Park

Third Place Books (Seward Park)

Along with solid literary credentials, this one boasts beer and bagels, thanks to the Chuck’s Hop Shop location and kosher dairy restaurant, Muriel’s All Day Eats, tucked inside.

Magus Books, inside and out.

Image: Jane Sherman

University District

Magus Books

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

Globe Bookstore 

This shop, formerly a Pioneer Square mainstay for new and used books, recently relocated to a compact new spot on University Way Northeast. 

University Book Store

University of Washington students can swing by this 122-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. 


Magus Books Annex

The venerated U District bookseller announced in September that it would relieve some of its groaning shelves on the Ave with an expansion to Wallingford, setting up shop in the basement of the building that housed Open Books before the poetry emporium’s move to Pioneer Square. The selection at the Annex will likely lean more niche and family-friendly than that of the OG location. 

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.

Pegasus Book Exchange

West Seattle’s longtime (mostly used) bookstore approximated browsing online by posting pictures of its shelves to Instagram during the pandemic. Now you can wander IRL once again, and take advantage of its book-trading program to refresh your collection. 

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