Growing up in small town, South Carolina in the 70’s, there was a great bookstore just a 10-minute bike ride from my home called “Burry Bookstore”. Smack dab in the middle of Main Street, USA, it represented progress and sophistication for our little town when it first opened in 1972. Even though it’s been more than 30 years since I’ve been there, I still remember the distinctive, new-book smell throughout the shop, the perfectly-smooth commercial carpeting (that was during the era of shag), exactly where the Hardy Boys books were shelved, the “so-old-but-so-knowledgeable” ladies who worked the counter, and even my most treasured purchase: A first edition of Racey Helps’s “The Blow-Away Balloon.” Several of the books that line my shelves today have the complimentary bookmarks the store gave away, and I smile each time I open one and see it.
Though no longer operated by the Burry family (after more than 40 years), the store remains. So, too, do my memories. In the big picture, it was just a store. A building, with an inventory. Just a store that, frankly, I didn’t even go to that often. But to me, it was so much more… it was where I learned to love books.
Fast-forward forty years… my tastes have changed, and I now prefer non-fiction, used books over novels or new books, but no visit to any town feels complete to me until I have located and perused the local bookstore.
While the fear has been real that online wholesalers and e-books would drive the brick-and-mortar bookstores out of business, the opposite has proven true. Sure, the market is evolving, but the numbers of independent booksellers has grown in recent years. The nostalgia involved in printed books is everlasting, and the personal touch offered by independent booksellers cannot be overstated. As much as a book lover may want to read a book, we also want to hold a book. We want to feel the paper, to experience the lure of the printed word and the thrill of discovery, and to have a connection with another person who understands that. For us, its not just reading a book, its having an experience.
“If Book Browsing Survives Anywhere, It’ll be in Charlottesville…”
There is perhaps nowhere more attractive to a bibliophile than Charlottesville, Virginia. With oodles of bookstores, bars, coffeehouses, libraries, one of America’s premier educational institutions–The University of Virginia (with 12 libraries, 5 million books, 20 million manuscripts, and a budget of $37 million dollars)–and an annual Festival of the Book (30,000 attendees in 2017), Charlottesville is truly a reader’s paradise.
It would be fitting to blame that upon Tommy J. himself. Ever since Mr. Jefferson established his “academical village” in 1825, Charlottesville has been a book-loving city! The Washington Post wrote in 2005 that, “If book browsing survives anywhere, it’ll be in Charlottesville, which has been a magnet for readers and writers for 200 years.” The home to such literary giants as Edgar Allan Poe and William Faulkner and W. H. McGuffey, Charlottesville also attracted the likes of John Grisham and Rita Dove and Melissa Harris-Perry.
“So often, a visit to a bookshop has cheered me, and reminded me that there are good things in the world.” Vincent Van Gogh
So, now that we have established that if you love books, you’ll love Charlottesville… what bookshops should you explore during your visit to Charlottesville, Virginia? These are the shops an honest-to-goodness, book-loving “C’villian” will tell you to not to miss:
The Best Used Bookstores in Charlottesville Virginia
Daedalus Bookshop (123 Fourth Street NE | Charlottesville, VA22902)
Inspired by the Greek mythology story of Daedalus, who built the labyrinth to contain the Minotaur, the Daedalus Book Shop is a book-lover’s paradise with its three floors of labyrinth-like shelves. With a sign that simply reads “Books” and an invitation to “Explore the Labyrinth” (last count was approximately 120,000 used books meticulously organized and reasonably priced), Daedalus Bookshop is the oldest and largest used bookstore in Charlottesville. In 1974, Sandy McAdams was living in New York when he received, unsolicited, a photo of a building for sale in Charlottesville. He liked what he saw, so he loaded every book he owned and moved to Virginia to open Daedalus Bookshop.
The Washington Post called the shop “the best used-book store south of the Strand in Greenwich Village” and “a three-story temple of secondhand lit, a bibliophile’s church tucked away on a curling side street. The steps creak, the nooks are shadowed. Books are piled from dusty floor to shelves that scrape the ceiling.”
Fair warning: this is the kind of bookstore you can browse in for hours, investigating every little nook and cranny (bring a pocket flashlight). In fact, it is my personal favorite.
Blue Whale Books (115 W. Main Street | Charlottesville, VA 22902)
Simply the most refined and handsome bookstore around, Blue Whale Books’ distinction is the beautiful prints and antique maps they sell, in addition to classic antiquarian books. I can spend half a day here, as well.
Read It Again Sam (214 E. Main Street | Charlottesville, VA 22902)
A fixture on Charlottesville’s pedestrian mall since the mid-1980s, you’ll recognize this tidy little shop by the signature carts of used paperbacks outside. The shop regularly purchases used books, but you might want to call ahead to see if their buyer is in.
Heartwood Books (5 Elliewood Avenue | Charlottesville, VA 22903)
A charming used bookshop housing beautifully-bound antique books and affordable paperbacks… a great way to relive the college experience of “seeking out” used classics.
Franklin Gilliam Rare Books (218 West South Street | Charlottesville, VA 22902)
Though they have posted hours, a call-ahead is advisable to ensure the shop is open. Specializing in Americana, law, English and American literature, food & wine, manuscripts, and printed ephemera.
The Book Room (440 29th Place Court | Charlottesville, VA 22901)
This shop, with its long rows of tall shelves, is tucked away in the corner of the “Stein Mart” shopping center. The Book Room sells used books at least 50% off the list price if new, and they have a huge sale every January.
The Sycamore Tree (2246 Ivy Road, Suite 8 | Charlottesville, VA 22903)
An independent, ecumenical Christian bookstore and fine stationary shop.
And, finally… though not really used bookstores, they are indeed… bookstores. Thus they made it onto our list of the best used bookstores in Charlottesville:
A spacious, modern bookstore filled with rows of short shelves displaying the shiny spines of new books. You’ll find sections devoted to faculty and alumni authors, and, of course, lots of UVA memorabilia (including beautiful framed photographs of the Rotunda).
New Dominion Bookshop (404 E. Main Street | Charlottesville, VA 22902)
The “oldest independent bookseller in Virginia,” having been continuously in operation since 1924, and with a long history of hosting authors throughout the year.
Barnes & Noble (1035 Emmet Street | Charlottesville, VA 22903)
Large, bookseller chain with housebrand eReader, thousands of adult and kids titles, café, and AT&T hotspot.
Atlas Comics (1750 Rio Hill Center | Charlottesville, VA 22901)
With more than 75,000 comics in stock, they are Central Virginia’s premier store-front provider of new and back-issue comic books and role-playing games.
Now that you’ve found “something” to read, may we suggest the perfect “somewhere” to read it. It would need to be secluded (like 40 acres in a rural setting); It would need to be void of distractions (such as no televisions, no telephone, and basic Wi-Fi); Fine food would be a must, as a fine reading experience is complemented by a fine dining experience; And as long as we’re talking about “antiquarian” books, why not make your stay historic as well… at Prospect Hill Plantation Inn.
As a 319-year old former wheat plantation, we have a fascinating history that predates the founding of America by more than 70 years. We are conveniently located just 4 miles from Interstate 64, and a quick 20 minutes to Charlottesville. At our tranquil country inn, you have a choice of 13 unique bedrooms or cottages. Each morning our hearty gourmet breakfast is served, either in our historic dining room or delivered right to your bedroom door! And Chef Elpidio’s dinners are simply beyond compare. Contact us today and “book” your stay (no pun intended) before visiting the best used bookstores in Charlottesville!