When it comes to independent bookstores, New Jersey gives New York a run for its money. We’ve rounded up 10 of the best independent bookstores in the Garden State.
While indies in the five boroughs have put on a brave face in the wake of closings in the last few years, New Jersey has blossomed, with myriad children’s and specialty bookstores in addition to the usual new and used stores. In fact, nearly every neighborhood and city in the state can boast a store worth supporting, all of which curate their selection for customers with intimate and idiosyncratic collections a far cry from the impersonal Barnes & Nobles and Amazons.
Ridgewood’s Bookends is a bookstore acclaimed for its high-profile author signings, which easily put it on par with any chain bookstore in creation, but that’s not to say that is doesn’t improve on the basics of the independent bookstore formula: great selection, helpful clerks, and a neighborhood feel. A New Jersey landmark with high-profile guests a regular feature, upcoming celebrity authors include wrestler Jim Rose, NBA Hall of Famer Bernard King, and Nikki Sixx of Motley Crue.
Labyrinth Books in Princeton New Jersey boasts tons of fiction titles while doing double-duty as the campus bookstore for Princeton University. Much like Book Culture in Manhattan (which once also existed under the Labyrinth Books moniker), this bookstore’s collection is housed in a 40,000 square warehouse that you can order from in the event that you are unable to find what you’re looking for at the retail store.
The newly-opened Black Dog Books in Newton, New Jersey bills itself as a bookstore for everybody, with a welcoming atmosphere and selections that spotlight female authors and books by women of color. Connected to the Between the Bread café, you can eat and drink coffee as you shop shelves geared toward fostering a sense of literary community.
Opened in 2013, Jersey City’s WORD Bookstore is an annex of their Greenpoint, Brooklyn location, and yet it claims considerably more floor space and hosts a café stocked with sandwiches, pastries, and Stumptown coffee. Best of all, you can order books from the Brooklyn location and vice versa, meaning you will seldom have to leave empty-handed.
A boutique bookstore which favors quality over quantity, ideal for finding books you’ve never heard of. Watchung Booksellers is not only an independent entity in its own right, but makes a point of spotlighting independent titles each month, making it even more of a community resource and an excellent addition to the roster of Jersey bookstores.
Bogart’s Books and Café is beyond charming. An independent bookstore located in the heart of Millville, this new and used bookstore is focused on New Jersey’s community of artists and writers, specializing in local history, field guides, children’s books, sheet music, and books on the paranormal. Be sure to bring in your own books to trade and stop in and stay awhile.
The Califon Book Shop’s website is adorned with Lewis Carroll’s quotation “if you’ll believe in me, I’ll believe in you,” which might as well be a mission statement for this friendly, can-do little bookstore that lists “things we like,” provides custom stationary, and stocks an excellent children’s section. Finally, the Califon Bookshop has a book nook for dreaming away the day with a classic novel.
The Montclair Book Center is a neighborhood staple that specializes in new and used books, as well as vinyl records. The host of a yearly reading festival every March, Montclair is the perfect bookstore for discovering rare and unusual antiquarian books and trading in your own. For a sense of just what a first-class operation the Montclair Book Center is, watch this introductory tour on Vimeo!
Hoboken’s Little City Books is a delightful storefront hung with lights and small press titles from publishers like NYRB Classics, dorothy, and New Directions prominently displayed. And the inside of the store is even more welcoming, with a children’s section that can easily go toe-to-toe with any Brooklyn bookstore. With a loyalty program that shaves off cover prices for return customers, and an interview series on their website – “the Little City Five” – it is the model of an independent, community-friendly bookstore.
In the era of online book ordering, River Road Books in the small town of Fair Haven is a blast from the past, featuring a caring and knowledgeable staff as well as a staggering selection of books. The independent spirit of the bookstore also extends to its website, which makes recommendations for children and teens, features a “what we’re reading” section, and spotlights local authors.