Givin’ It Up For Indie Bookstores…

There’s nothing like discovering a really cool bookstore filled with music magazines and music books.

Sure, I go to Amazon a bit. I also go to Borders and Barnes & Noble a bit, and when I’m back in Canada I’ve been known to hang out at Chapters or an Indigo too. So don’t think I’m immune to the charms of the big chain bookstore or high volume website. But as my narrow life-focus dictates, I do have one kind of rule of conduct: You’ll rarely see me in a store that has no music books and/or rock magazine section. That’s why, wherever I’ve lived (Toronto, San Francisco, Vancouver and Berkeley) or places I visit (L.A., New York, Portland, Seattle, London, Barcelona, Tokyo), I’ve always tried to find the local independent bookseller, a place where you can hang out a bit and get to know the books and magazines, and if you’re really lucky, the staff too.

The recent success of Record Store Day got me thinking about bookstores again.  As many of the “Bricks and Mortar” establishments go the way of dinosaur, it’s even more important to spend a little time and money on your cherished local indie bookseller. Certain shops, whether they’re gone or still slogging it out, will forever stay in my memory and in my heart.

In Toronto, where I spent the first two-thirds of my life, I had great fondness for the now defunct Pages bookstore on Queen St West, a spacious and well-lit emporium, they never failed to have the coolest music, film and design titles (as well as fiction and sociology and all the other bases covered). The owner was never nice to me, but the store made up for his social shortcomings even if I never made the A-list socially. They’re strictly online now.

Also in Toronto, I frequented This Ain’t The Rosedale Library which I thought had also gone out of business, but a brief Google search has just informed me that they merely moved locations from Church St (east of Yonge) to their new location on Nassau St. in Kensington Market. I’ll check them out next time I get back to my hometown.

A recent trip to Portland gave me an excuse to finally visit one of the true giants of independent retail, Powell’s, the multi-floor juggernaut downtown. I have previously written about Book Soup in Los Angeles, and you can read about one of my recent visits in this post (click here).

Before I lived in the East Bay, I spent quite a bit of time in San Francisco‘s Phoenix Books on 24th in Noe Valley, and later at Red Hill Books, on Cortland in Bernal Hill.

When my last book, It Ain’t Easy: Long John Baldry And The Birth of The British Blues came out in 2007, I did an event at The Booksmith in the Haight, and while they’ve changed a little in the past year, I still highly recommend it. We also did an event for It Ain’t Easy here in Berkeley at Black Oak Books on Shattuck but over the last year, that store fell victim to a lethal combination of recession, developers greed and the general trend away from large retail spaces. Luckily, I recently discovered two bookstores in the East Bay that are even cooler. One is Diesel: A Bookstore, on College Avenue in the Rockridge section of North Oakland.

I have to admit, I only discovered Diesel recently, when two friends had one of their wedding reception events there (they had met each other there, awwww). A really great place and the staff clearly loved books and seemed pretty hip too.

Then, only last weekend, I discovered Issues, a tiny shoe box sized store in Oakland’s Piedmont Ave area, that specializes in magazines but also has all “the right” books, vinyl albums and even super cool silkscreened T-shirts. They had all the rock magazines I loved and millions more that I’d never heard of, plus all kinds of other magazines too. The owners, Joe Colley and Noella Teele were not only super friendly and super helpful, they were also super enthusiastic about all the stuff in their shop. I really felt like I’d walked into an oasis (I know this sounds like a Yelp! listing, but I really loved this little store).  By the time I’d left, I’d picked up the new issue of The Word magazine, a hardback copy of How To Wreck A Nice Beach (the Vocoder book I heard about on NPR) and this really cool black T-Shirt with a vintage synthesizer on it.

Speaking of independent bookstores, I got the final artwork for my next book, A Wizard A True Star: Todd Rundgren In The Studio, from Jawbone Press this week.

My book comes out in October, so why not ask your local independent bookstore if they’ll order it.




8 Responses to “Givin’ It Up For Indie Bookstores…”

  1. Diesel, of course! Also, Daunt Books in London, Shakespeare & Co in Paris, Type in Toronto (you and Liza should check it out when you’re there!), McNally Jackson and 192 Books in NYC. And so many more…

    Great post Paul, and so glad you like Issues!!

  2. Hiya Paul, just a few of my fave London indie bookshops: My Back Pages in Balham a drab suburb in South London is a very large indie bookstore which stocks weird and kooky titles and anything from Dylan to Warhol. Why is it cool? The cihilled out vibe and the 50p bargain bin! Offstage And Treadwells in Convent Garden whats sells rock and magic books(oddly enough), who burns incense and have nice comfy sofas to lounge about for hours! The Bookseller in Crystal Palace is a hippy bohemian bookshop which is well,just cool.

  3. You mentioned it already! This Ain’t the Rosedale Library has been my favourite bookshop for as long as I can remember. The great selection of fiction, odd bits of nonfiction, and baseball books have kept me coming back.

  4. Nicely Done!
    In toronto, checkout the bookstore inside Cosmo Music in the nicest music store in the world, in Richmond Hill. (Leslie and Major Mac)
    that is if you havn’t already.

    And maybe? Do a book relealse event there in their lecture theatre?

  5. my two neighborhood favorites, which long ago bit the dust thanks to B&N, were the endicott, at 81st and columbus, and shakespeare & co., at 81st and broadway. both had excellent readings—i saw j.g. ballard at endicott and tom stoppard at shakespeare.

    there’s also eeyore’s, a tiny little place on broadway and 82nd st., which is crammed to the rafters with used books—not many places like that left around here, i tell you.

    also, when i first moved to nyc back in the ’70s, there were a ton of big old used bookstores down on fourth avenue. you could spend an afternoon drowsily breathing in book dust and browsing their shelves. this was before the real estate was worth anything to speak of…imagine that.

    and i do remember not the rosedale library. fondly.

  6. chuck madden Says:

    I really love The Ohio Bookstore in downtown Cincinnati! It is a cross between visiting and old friend and finding the prize in the bottom of my favorite box of cereal…It is five floors of fun and the owner has worked the store for more than 50 years.. plus he likes us book geeks. You can also find a copy of almost every Rolling Stone and Cream ever printed in mag bins.. taaadaaa

    Cincy has great Todd fans, I’ll make a point to ask Jim to stock your book.

  7. Don’t know if you read Cometbus, but issue #51 is an amazing history about the booksellers on Telegraph in Berkeley. A must read for people interested in this sort of thing. I wrote about it on my blog awhile back. Here’s that link:

  8. there are many used books sale in our area and i frequently visit them to buy some “

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