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8 charming independent bookstores you have to visit

The Galaxy Bookshop in Hardwick, Vermont. Books on display at the Galaxy Bookshop in Hardwick, Vermont. | Photo by Oliver Parini

Stop into White Birch Books, an independent bookstore in North Conway, New Hampshire, and you will find a strong selection of resources for hiking and outdoor pursuits, reflecting the interests of the shop’s White Mountains locale. 

Two hours to the northeast, the large collection at The Galaxy Bookshop in Hardwick, Vermont, focuses on farming and agriculture, reflective of the number of small family farms in the area and support for local food.

Around New England, independent bookstores offer a snapshot into local interests while serving as outposts of community. Visitors can find good reads, of course, but also perhaps a recommendation for the best sandwich around or a special hiking trail. Denizens discover everything from community scuttlebutt to monthly book clubs, where neighbors can become lifelong chums. Here’s a selection of places where you might just find your new favorite author—or a new friend.

1. Sherman’s of Damariscotta

158 Main Street, Damariscotta, Maine; (207) 563-3207

Family operated Sherman’s Maine Coast Book Shops’ five-location fiefdom also includes stores in Portland, Boothbay Harbor, Freeport, and Bar Harbor. Damariscotta is Sherman’s’ newest addition—it was acquired in 2016—but it operated for more than five decades prior as the Maine Coast Bookshop. With a welcoming café right off the entrance and a large footprint, it remains a center for the village.

You may also like: Damariscotta River Cruises

2. The Flying Pig Bookstore

5247 Shelburne Road, Shelburne, Vermont; 802-985-3999

The Flying Pig Bookstore in Shelburne, Vermont, offers a pickup window.

The Flying Pig Bookstore in Shelburne, Vermont, offers a pickup window. | Photo by Oliver Parini

Originally conceived as a specialist in children’s literature, The Flying Pig retains that sense of whimsy. Families can often be found settled on the colorful rug, reading picture books, and a staffer might sit right down, too, and spontaneously share a favorite.

Story time aside, no matter your age, the cheerful staff can put a book into your hands that you will love—a talent that has been recognized with national awards. Owner Elizabeth Bluemle, whose enthusiasm for all things literary is contagious, opened the store in 1996, and it remains a magnet for locals and tourists from around the world. 

You may also like: See Shelburne's fall foliage

3. Volumes Bookstore

75 Bangor Street, Houlton, Maine; 207-532-7727

Bibliophiles could easily spend half a day wandering Volumes, unearthing quantities of books they never knew they needed. The shop sprawls over 8,400 square feet, with about 150,000 remaindered new and used books displayed on shelves and tables and in boxes.

Overwhelmed by the collection? Sink into one of several couches or comfy easy chairs for a break or seek suggestions from owner Gerry Berthelette. His encyclopedic knowledge has guided locals, visitors from neighboring Canada (the border is 4 miles away), and seasonal guests for 22 of the store’s 29 years. Reduced hours January through May.

4. The Galaxy Bookshop

41 S. Main Street, Hardwick, Vermont; 802-472-5533

The Galaxy Bookshop has cozy chairs for customer perusing possible book purchases. | Photo by Oliver Parini

The Galaxy Bookshop has cozy chairs for customers. | Photo by Oliver Parini

How much does The Galaxy Bookshop mean to this locale? When the store moved to a bigger space a decade ago, 80 people turned out in below-zero temperatures to help. A mural inside commemorates that event for the store, contributing to a sense of place. The shelves reflect the area as well with lots of books by local authors and about agriculture and community, which inform the surrounding small family farms.

5. Owl and Turtle Book Shop Café

33 Bay View Street, Camden, Maine; 207-230-7335

For 50 years, devoted customers have been returning to Owl and Turtle with children, grandchildren, spouses—and even their dogs. Current owners Maggie and Craig White bought the multilevel shop in 2016 and continue to offer a place to curl up in a cozy chair, linger over locally roasted coffee, or catch an author reading.

In winter, you’ll find a cadre of locals, some of whom stay away in the summer to avoid the crowds in this tourist-friendly town. Year-round, the selection in the 1,500-square-foot space includes works by local authors and a charming second-floor children’s section. 

6. Gibson’s Bookstore

45 S. Main Street, Concord, New Hampshire; 603-224-0562

Gibson’s has been helping customers connect with new favorites since 1898, making it Northern New England’s oldest independent bookstore. Current owner Michael Herrmann is only the fifth in the store’s 122 years, giving Gibson’s a sense of history, and residents of Concord a touchstone.

Housing about 50,000 volumes within its 10,500 square feet, the shop invites lingering with plentiful seating and an events area that can seat more than 100 people for readings and talks. Artful displays, well-laid-out sections, and teams of booksellers ready with recommendations make discovering delights easy.

7. The Yankee Bookshop

12 Central Street, Woodstock, Vermont; 802-457-2411

The Yankee Bookshop in Wookstock, Vermont is recognized for its signature yellow awning.

Its yellow awning makes The Yankee Bookshop a colorful Center Street standout. | Photo by Kristian Preylowski / Courtesy The Yankee Bookshop

Vermont’s longest-running independent bookshop, which stands out in Woodstock’s historic downtown with its signature striped white-and-yellow awning, has welcomed readers for 85 years. Kari Meutsch and Kristian Preylowski, who purchased Yankee in 2017, handpick every book in the store. Lesser-known authors, debuts, books in translation, and even vinyl records are among the surprises that appeal to the well-read community. 

You may also like: The best of Woodstock, Vermont

8. White Birch Books

2568 White Mountain Highway, North Conway, New Hampshire; 603-356-3200

The charming purple-and-yellow Victorian-style house, complete with a cupola, beckons with a fairy-tale aura. While White Birch Books looks like a dollhouse from the outside, its interior covers 3,400 square feet over two levels, including a light-filled children’s section upstairs. Books are displayed in beautifully curved floor-to-ceiling wood cases, with plenty of room for browsing and a friendly staff to guide your quest.

Given the Mount Washington Valley location, it’s no surprise that alongside copious suggestions for every reader is a deep outdoors collection that details everything from the history of the area’s covered bridges to off-the-beaten-path hiking trails.

Jeanne O’Brien Coffey grew up visiting bookstores around New England. You’ll probably find her nose buried in the latest Ann Patchett novel or a cookbook.

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