Five Great NW DC Bookstores

I love bookstores — such a resilient bunch. They're dinosaurs, really, just waiting on the comet.

And yet, maybe not. In the age of Amazon and the big volume booksellers, the local guys are still finding ways to compete by focusing on smaller, niche markets. SBDC Net, an information clearinghouse for small businesses, estimated that when bookstore industry revenues and employment figures were down overall between 1 and 2% a couple of years ago, employment at small independent stores was stable.

Whatever numbers you look at for bookstores, they've been pretty dismal in recent years. The internet and e-readers have not been kind to an industry that still buys printing ink. But the Christian Science Monitor reported that American Booksellers Association data shows numbers of independent stores are up 15% from 2009, when the economy was at its worst.

So, support your local bookseller. Here are five of my favorites from around Northwest D.C. Washington is, of course, an extremely literate city and this list is neither exhaustive nor a "best of." These are simply five bookstores where I enjoy browsing frequently and try to support.

Idle Time Books
2467 18th Street Northwest
Washington, DC 20009

The store has been operating since the early 80s and is an odd literary refuge in the Adams Morgan neighborhood. Browsing through stacks of vintage crime, political history and art analysis, one can almost forget that come Sunday morning the streets of this popular nightlife area are coated with vomit.

Idle Time is quiet and comfortable, with lots of unexpected items. Don't rush, and browse old magazines, vinyl and rare books.

Kramerbooks & Afterwords Cafe
1517 Connecticut Ave NW
Washington, DC 20036
(202) 387-1400

Two words: Full. Bar. 

Kramerbooks is a long-standing institution just off Dupont Circle, with that eclectic-intellectual mix of books that veers almost into Washington-annoying before you say, "Oh!" and wind up taking home a book bicycle travel or some Portuguese fiction.


Second Story Books
2000 P St NW
Washington, DC 20036
(202) 659-8884

I've been going to Second Story for as long as I've lived in D.C., often lured into their sidewalk boxes of discount books. Inside, the store is a flurry of literary eccentricity. Boxes of antique maps and prints, strange art on the walls, clippings from old tomes, and (when I was there last) an enormous movie poster from A View to a Kill).

Grace Jones!

Upshur Street Books
827 Upshur St NW
Washington, DC 20011
(202) 726-0380

The new kids on the block, Upshur Street Books is owned by the same folks who brought Petworth Citizen and Crane & Turtle to the Petworth neighborhood.  Paul Ruppert raised over $20,000 via Kickstarter to help fund the locally-focused bookstore.

More than 350 people donated to the cause, in which Ruppert explained:

"Independent bookstores sit at the center of our creative and intellectual community and encourage well-reasoned discourse and the spread of new ideas."

They've got a pretty large young adult section for the Pethworth families, and the store is focused on local artists and authors. 

And Citizen is a great bar so support them, too.


Big Planet Comics
1520 U St NW
Washington, DC 20009

You won't find the latest New York Times best sellers at Big Planet Comics, but you don't need to be into comics to enjoy the store. They have a wide range of interesting graphic and literary projects, and while the typical superhero storyline still dominates the offerings there are also independent and wordless zines and local writers represented.

For instance, yesterday I found this awesome "Special Message For You Hand-Delivered To You From The Universe," by Yumi Sakugawa, a comic book artist from southern California. And while it wasn't acually hand-delivered (I had to go into the store, though maybe that's not what she means), it is a pretty magical little book. 

By coincidence, it turns out NPR included Sakugawa's "Your Illustrated Guide to Becoming One with the Universe" in their "book concierge" project I mentioned the other day.

Posted on December 4, 2014 .