Best Bookstores to Lose a Day At | Savoy Bookshop and Cafe, Westerly, RI
Photo Credit : Courtesy of Savoy Bookshop and Café
Creating a “best bookstores” list for New England is more challenging than it would be for most places. Our region is blessed with countless wonderful shops, each with its own charm. Some pride themselves on being eclectic, or all-encompassing, or uniquely focused. But for this post, I’m calling out what I consider to be destination bookshops. I love these stores for both their book selection and their comfy chairs, and they get bonus points for having a café or an entertainment space for hosting cool events, or for being a community center, or for going above and beyond in some other way that makes them the best — bookstores I always want to visit, and never want to leave.
NEW ENGLAND’S BEST BOOKSTORES TO SPEND THE WHOLE DAY
Although the bookstore that Diary of a Wimpy Kid built is relatively new to the scene, it’s clear that author/owner Jeff Kinney and his family have learned a thing or two about what makes a bookstore great. An Unlikely Story is a beautifully laid-out space with a well-curated selection of books (including, predictably, a top-notch kids’ section). Designed with community events in mind, it offers something — from readings to exercise classes — almost every day. The café has a modest menu, but its sandwiches, soups, and salads offer enough variety to keep you happy, and the espresso goes down smooth. Beer and wine are available by the glass, too.
Trident pioneered the bookstore-café model back in the 1980s, before it became all the rage, and that deep experience shows. Whether you are there for breakfast, lunch, or dinner, the café will likely be hopping, so be prepared for a wait. Luckily, there are many of shelves of distractions to help you pass the time. The creative event lineup encompasses readings and signings as well as games and other diversions (I’m not sure exactly what transpired at “Legos and Beer” night, but I’m sorry to have missed it). As of April 2018, the shop is temporarily closed because of fire damage, so call or check the website before visiting.
Proximity to New York City gives R.J. Julia a leg up in terms of attracting bestselling authors for signings and readings, but there are many other reasons to count this shop among New England’s best bookstores. The on-site café is independently owned and serves tasty soups, salads, and paninis, as well as decadent desserts. The book selection is large, but there’s a personal touch in the handwritten reviews and plentiful book clubs and reading suggestions. A fine selection of toys and games, stationery, and gifts round out the shopping options. (Note: In 2017, R.J. Julia teamed with Wesleyan University to open a new, smaller shop in Middleton.)
Gibson has roots in the community that stretch back more than a century, but it’s really stepped up its game since relocating to the current Main Street location. With plenty of tables and chairs available throughout the store, Gibson’s often hosts more than one event at the same time. A vibrant reading schedule, the terrific True Brew Café (try the crepes), and a fun selection of toys, games, and trinkets will encourage you to linger, while the 40,000 or so books on offer will make it hard to feel that you could ever see it all.
Since 1976, Northshire has been tempting visitors with comfort, selection, and fun. Located in a converted inn, it offers up multiple floors of discoveries. One floor is all children’s books; on others you’ll find gifts, games, toys, and almost any other kind of book you can think of. The Spiral Press Café is the place for rich coffee, buttery croissants, and savory wraps. You’re never more than a few steps away from a comfortable place to sit, and there are multiple readings at Northshire every week.
All six Sherman’s locations have their charm, but it’s at the Damariscotta shop that I’m most likely to lose myself, thanks in large part to the café. Equally popular with tourists and locals, Sherman’s has Maine roots that stretch back to the 1880s. Time will slip away as you settle in to browse, with helpful staff members always handy for directions or suggestions.
For more than a quarter of a century, Bank Square Books has been serving the book lovers of Mystic, Connecticut. So hopes were high when it opened a sister shop across the state line — and the results do not disappoint. At Savoy Bookshop and Café in Westerly, the event space allows for readings and signings on a near-daily basis, and the bargain-basement prices of the excellent coffee will have you justifying a second (or third) cup.
Imagine your dream bookstore-café: loads of space, shelf after shelf of books, lots of tables and comfortable chairs, performance spaces, etc. Now replace the café with a bar. Great food, cold beer and a deep selection of used books combine to make Portsmouth Book & Bar, located in the historic Custom House, an irresistible destination. Entertainment offerings include open mics and bands and other typical bar fare, in addition to readings and film screenings. Purists will perhaps be relieved to know that killer coffee and homemade pastries are on the menu, too.