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Sunday, February 21, 2010

Local, Independent Bookstores in the City of St. Louis

Recently, St. Louis accomplished something its detractors never thought it could. It placed near the top of a positive list--Most Literate Cities.

While #11 overall is not too shabby, St. Louis scored particularly high in the "Libraries" (#2) categories as well as the "Booksellers" (#8) category.

Wait...booksellers? This certainly had to be a regional measure, which would include the many chain bookstores that litter the metropolitan region.

This list gave me the idea to look at St. Louis's offerings in this category. But I wanted to focus on the city of St. Louis and in particular its local, independent booksellers of the non-adult variety. Below is a list of places in the city where you can flaunt your literacy, among the Top 11 in the country.

Neighborhood: Benton Park West
213-15 Cherokee Street
Saint Louis, MO 63118
fax: (314)288-0657


This is St. Louis's newest independent book store, located on an evolving stretch of Cherokee Street on the Benton Park West side. I wanted to highlight this one first because it needs its presence known the most as the new kid on the block. Plus, my heart bleeds endlessly for Cherokee Street. I just love that you can now stroll the stroll and peruse rare used books, buy an STL-Style t-shirt, gawk at antique medical equipment, watch printmakers at work, thumb through metal records, lug home some used furniture and other trinkets, etc. I digress, badly. When I was last in town, the shop was not quite open yet, but that didn't stop the owner (didn't get his name...) from letting me in for a little tour and browsing. It looked well stocked then. Please visit and support your Cherokee Street bookstore...or else suffer a slide in the rankings on next year's Most Literate Cities study! You wouldn't want to be responsible for that, would you?

Neighborhood: Benton Park/Antique Row
1939 Cherokee Street
St. Louis, MO 63118
Website: the Archive isn't Cherokee Street's only bookstore. Hammond's has been around for a while and specializes in rare and out of print books. It fits in well with its antique surroundings, as many of their books are antiques themselves. Hammond's has limited hours, so make sure to call ahead.

Neighborhood: Tower Grove South/Heights
3111 South Grand
 St. Louis, MO 63118
 Phone: (314) 771 - 7150


South Grand, to me, lacks the needed retail element to truly make the district pop. Dunaway Books, though, is one of the most authentic and cool businesses on the strip. This has to be St. Louis largest independent bookstore, with a jam-packed main floor and a basement to boot. Please support Dunaway to keep South Grand viable. Hopefully the street's more pedestrian-friendly layout will give Dunaway some extra foot traffic.


Neighborhoods: Central West End, Downtown
399 N. Euclid
St. Louis, MO 63108


321 N. 10th
St. Louis, MO 63101


Left Bank Books probably needs no introduction. Most city residents know of it. But that doesn't mean, come Black Friday, most residents shop there. Left Bank has had something of a shaky history, having nearly shuttered several times. Originally a counter-culture bookstore located in the Loop, Left Bank was rescued from the brink of closure and moved to the Central West End, where it remains today. Due to Craig Heller's brilliance and generosity, a subsidized store now exists downtown. Left Bank's plight is a case in point: local booksellers need your support whenever possible. Remember that their products are the same as Barnes and Noble and Borders, yet their level of customer service and neighborhood-oriented settings simply make the shopping experience more pleasant than any corporate one. During the real estate and investment bubble of the mid 2000s, I recall Mayor Slay trumpeting news of a Borders scouting a downtown location. I can safely say I'm glad they didn't move in now that Left Bank anchors downtown. Left Bank's profits stay in St. Louis.

Neighborhood: Academy
5249 Delmar Blvd.
St. Louis, MO 63108

So I admit: I've never been to this store. Reviews of it sound great, though. It seems to be a combination book store and coffee shop--a concept that's popular here in Baltimore but not so much in St. Louis. It seems rather social justice-oriented, too, which is excellent in my book. It's already on my list of places to try when I return to St. Louis.

Neighborhood: Skinker-DeBaliviere
5892 Delmar Blvd.
St. Louis, MO 63112

Here's yet another "Far East Loop" bookstore I've never been to. As the name suggests, it's not merely about books, but empowerment through literacy--very fitting for the study that inspired this post. Does anyone have the scoop on this business, located in the Delmar Design District?


A personal favorite of mine is the American Institute of Architects (AIA) bookstore downtown on Washington Avenue. There are a handful of comic book stores left in the city as well. Does anyone else know of any specialty book stores in the city? We can't forget Subterranean Books, located just outside the city in the Loop.

One more thing...a fond farewell to one of the region's coolest book stores ever:  Library Limited in downtown Clayton, swallowed by the corporate campus of Centene.

Final reflection here: support your local, independent book store because 1) our city will be less cool if you do not and 2) we will not rank as highly on "lists" with dubious criteria. That's all.

UPDATE (2/22/10): An adroit reader caught that I missed a specialty book store--Big Sleep Books on Euclid in the Central West End, which specializes in mystery novels. Thanks!


Court said...

Great post! I was really excited to see that my new neighborhood has two bookstores now. I don't know much about archive, but I used to come to a used bookstore on Cherokee in the mid-nineties that had a treasure trove of used books for the intellectually hungry. And it smelled spooky and served coffee and let patrons alone. It was marvelous. I'll have to see if it was Hammond's or a defunct store.

Also, please don't forget Subterranean Books on Delmar: In my experience they've always had helpful and knowledgeable staff and were willing to order things for me. And a buyer's club to earn free books.

Erich said...

Can't forget Big Sleep Books on Euclid, just south of Maryland. Great prices and almost any mystery you could think of!

John said...

To be more specific, Library Ltd was sold to Borders, which then built their own store on Brentwood, and closed the store on Hanley. I think the building was used for a department store, the name I forget, for a few years, and then sold to Centene, which tore it down.

Centene isn't to blame for Library Ltd's departure -- if anyone is to blame, it is Borders.

The building was originally built in 1950 as a suburban outlet for the Scruggs Vandervoort and Barney department store.

Blackpetunia said...

Thank you for mentioning The Archive.
We are officially open now and have regular store hours. Our website is which will be evolving over time as well.

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