At its best, a bookstore is just one point in a larger constellation of relationships, housed in physical spaces, that make up that nebulous but essential thing we call community. It can even be the center of the constellation. In an era when more and more reading is taking place on screens, and less and less commerce is taking place in the physical world, independent bookstores find themselves threatened by the pincer movement of big-box suburban mega-bookstores on one side, and online delivery systems like Amazon and digital books on the other.
Attorney Norm Pattis told our Beachcombing columnist Randall Beach that purchasing Whitlock’s Book Barn in Bethany in 2005 was “a reckless decision on my part.” Writing on her website about the decision to purchase the House of Books in Kent in 2013, owner Robin Dill-Herde says she has to “admit it was a radical thing to do, rebellious even.” Well, here’s to the reckless rebels. These are our favorite independent bookstores in the state.
The Book Barn
The Book Barn isn’t so much a bookstore as a book compound. The original store is centered around a house, and sprawls across several buildings. In recent years, The Book Barn has opened three satellite locations in Niantic, and boasts some 500,000 books in its ever-changing stock. If you really love your books, be careful, because this place could take up a lot of your time.
41 W. Main St., 860-739-5715, bookbarnniantic.com
Whitlock’s Book Barn
Columnist Randall Beach profiled Whitlock’s Book Barn in our January issue. Housed in the same type of rustic structure as Niantic’s Book Barn, Whitlock’s was bought in 2005 by New Haven civil rights attorney and New Haven Register columnist Norm Pattis. According to Pattis, “a community without a bookstore is like a body without a heart.” Check out Whitlock’s Book Barn to ensure good heart health.
20 Sperry Road, 203-393-1240, whitlocksbookbarn.com
A relative newcomer on the list, Bethel’s Byrd’s Books opened in 2011 in a 450-square-foot space above the Molten Java coffee shop on Greenwood Avenue, and has since moved to its current 1,300-square-foot location. Owner Alice Hutchinson — her middle name is Byrd — is passionate about highlighting local authors, and about the role bookstores play in local communities. Asked what a local, independent bookstore means for the community, Hutchinson’s answer is simple: “It means survival.”
126 Greenwood Ave., 203-730-2973, byrdsbooks.com
House of Books
Having celebrated 40 years in business last year, this “literary landmark” in the Litchfield Hills has survived the growth of online booksellers, digital reading devices and the short attention spans of the internet era. House of Books features regular book and author signings. Like several bookstores on the list, the House of Books sits nestled on a main street, surrounded by several other local stores in a walkable, engaging community.
10 N. Main St.
Brick Walk Bookshop
Located in what has to be one of the most competitive retail towns in the state, this bookshop also specializes in fine art, in case you’re looking to decorate your home as well as your imagination. The offerings here are primarily used books, with a focus on art. For a bonus, check out the truly wonderful and old-fashioned Quaker Diner across the street.
322 Park Road, 860-233-1730
R.J. Julia Booksellers
In many ways, this shoreline bookshop is one of the premier destinations for Connecticut book fiends. R.J. Julia hosts authors on tour who are launching books, or in their monthly “Voices in the Bookstore” reading series, which highlights local writers in an open-mike-type event. Check their site often for new author events. In February, owner Roxanne Coady launched her Just the Right Book podcast, leveraging years of relationships in the publishing world into a podcast for the rest of us to enjoy.
768 Boston Post Road, 203-245-3959, rjjulia.com
This downtown institution opened in 1990 when local resident Diane Garrett decided the town needed a bookstore. It is one of the last independent bookstores in downtown Greenwich, and has a down-to-earth, humble feeling amid the glitz and glamour of the Greenwich Avenue luxury shopping district. Host to many author events, Diane’s describes itself as a “family bookstore,” meaning there’s something here for everyone.
8 Grigg St. A, 203-869-1515, dianesbooks.com
Bank Street Book Nook
In terms of the nourishing joy and warmth of patronizing local businesses, New Milford is a feast. Bank Street’s Book Nook is nestled right next to a small cinema, and surrounded by coffee shops, needlepoint and toy stores. The Book Nook keeps its front window updated with The New York Times bestseller list, so you’re always on top of what’s new and fresh.
40 Bank St., 860-354-3865, bankstreetbooks.net
Bank Square Books
This shop in downtown Mystic describes itself not only as independent, but fiercely so. Along with its sister bookstore, the new and beautiful Savoy Bookshop and Cafe in Westerly, Rhode Island, Bank Square hosts reading discussion groups once a month, and story time every Saturday morning at 11.
53 W. Main St., 860-536-3795, banksquarebooks.com
What’s more American than the roadside eatery, with an extra-tall sign, grasping high into the sky to alert interstate highway drivers that it exists? Just off exit 74 on that lonely stretch of I-84 nearing the Massachusetts border, one such sign reads FOOD and BOOKS, and really, what more do you need? Travelers is a great bookstore in its own right, plus every diner gets a free book after a meal.
1257 Buckley Hwy. I-84, exit 74, 860-684-4920