old town books. Photo by Matt Carr.
Independent bookstores have made a comeback amid the pandemic, despite Amazon’s all-consuming power – and this area is home to some of the best independent bookstores. Washingtonians 21 independent bookstores rounded up for a late summer read. Many shops still require masks, so be sure to bring one before you go.
Bard’s Alley bookshop
This woman-run bookshop in Vienna doubles as a wine bar and offers a wide selection – the owner, Jen Morrow, chose the name “Bards Alley” to evoke Shakespeare’s and Harry Potter’s Diagon Alley.
Bold Fork Books
The tiny space on Bridge Street in Georgetown is crammed with books on politics, cultural studies, poetry and philosophy. You won’t find the latest young adult romantic comedy, 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 meeting place for artists, writers and activists. Busboys and Poets has nine locations in the DMV and hosts weekly open mics and events where you can learn how to get involved in politics and organization.
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 about themselves, and they put together a stack of books that they think you’ll like.
Founded by a mother who wanted to provide a community space after her neighborhood bookstore closed, this Capitol Hill bookstore is known for catering to book lovers of all ages. Aside from the usual book clubs and author events offered at many independent bookstores, East City also organizes community partnerships that allow customers to buy and donate books directly from an organization’s wishlist.
Harambee Books & Artworks
Harambee – which means “to work together” in Swahili – offers 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 Alexandria store focuses on children’s books, but also offers popular young adult novels and a curated collection of adult books. It’s known in the neighborhood for offering weekly story hours.
This long-time retailer in Dupont Circle boasts of being DC’s first bookseller that doubles as a coffee shop. Now the bookstore offers a restaurant, a bar and even a hairdressing studio. If you don’t have time to browse the shelves and get your hair cut, Kramers sends book deliveries in an hour or less via 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 unique read. The multi-story space is in the heart of Adams Morgan.
Founded by a black and queer bookseller, Loyalty Bookstore specializes in diverse books 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 open By appointment only because of the pandemic. Among its events, the store hosts Drag Queen Storytimes.
This Black owned and family run bookstore originally started online and is dedicated to books written for, by and about people in the African diaspora. They’ve since opened two physical locations — one in Anacostia and one in National Harbor — where book lovers can find works by A-list authors, new voices, and local authors.
old town books
Old Town Books in Alexandria is women-owned and has a great selection – plus a resident shop dog, Scout. The company also has a pop-up location called Old Town Books Juniors that focuses on young readers.
Another page of books
Head to 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 photo with a cutout of Barack Obama, who visited the store in 2012.
politics and prose
One DC institution, Politics and Prose, is famous for luring A-listers — from Barack Obama to José Andrés — to its writers’ events, which are held at least once a day. If you have a question about a book, contact one of the incredibly knowledgeable staff at 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 back in time and becomes part of a slave rebellion on a western Indian plantation. 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, Scrawl is owned and operated by a former librarian. It offers books for all ages. The bookstore also has a list of local teachers’ wish lists that you can donate to directly by purchasing books on the list on-line or in the store.
Solid State Books
Solid State Books is a black owned bookstore on H Street Northeast known for its cozy kids corner where kids can read and play while adults grab a drink from the coffee bar.
Books of the second story
This Dupont Circle landmark is one of the largest used and rare bookstores in the world — and it offers “everything from 50 cent paperbacks to really obscure and expensive antiquarian stuff,” according to a manager said Washingtonians in 2015. Most books are consignment stock, so you probably won’t find the latest must-reads here, but if you meander through the maze of shelves, you’ll likely find a gem. Be sure to check out the carts on the sidewalk for hefty discounts. Second Story also has a warehouse in Rockville that stocks over half a million books.
The definition of a community space, this nonprofit Adams Morgan coffee shop and bookstore offers pay-it-forward programs where you can buy meals, masks and supplies for neighbors in need, and books for those incarcerated. The Potter’s House also hosts events focused on nurturing the community, such as workshops on the healing power of poetry. True to its mission, the store specializes in stocking books on social movements, justice and justice, cultural studies and spiritual traditions – as well as fiction, children’s books and more that focus on multicultural voices.
Based in Georgetown, The Lantern sells donated books, prints and other media to raise funds for scholarships at Bryn Mawr College, an all-women liberal arts school in Pennsylvania. The store is run entirely by volunteers, many of whom are Byrn Mawr alumnae in the DC area.