What I love most about used bookstores is their endless capacity for surprises. Shops may specialize in one subject or another, but the selection is ever-changing, as stock comes and goes. Because no shop is ever the same experience twice, my list of favorites is always changing, too. New England is blessed with an abundance of cool shops, and I easily could have extended the list for each state to double digits. But to keep things interesting, I’ve limited myself to three current favorites each (undoubtedly weighted somewhat by my success rate on my most recent visits).
Best Used Bookstores in New England
Massachusetts | Best Used Bookstores
With roots that stretch back to 1825, the Brattle is the venerable center of Boston’s used-book scene. Proprietor Ken Gloss is well known from his many appearances on Antiques Roadshow
on PBS, and his three-story treasure chest of more than 250,000 books, maps, and ephemera never fails to surprise and delight. Whether you’re looking for a rare antique volume or a Robert Parker mystery to read on the T, if your search starts at the Brattle, it’s unlikely you’ll have to look any further.
The location may be a bit out of the way, but the barn in which these two formerly separate bookstores now cohabitate is a literary treasure worthy of a map. There’s room after room of books, with some sections still organized differently depending on which shop they originated with. While the focus is on the literary and intellectual, you’ll discover plenty of everything here — and some nice soft chairs in case you just can’t wait to get started reading.
Owner John Petrovato is a former co-owner of the Montague Book Mill in Montague, Massachusetts, and more recently opened Portsmouth Book and Bar in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. In between, he created Raven, first in Northampton and Amherst, Massachusetts. In 2005, Petrovato moved the Amherst shop to Cambridge, where Raven quickly developed a dedicated following. Because the shop is one of the busiest around, the stock turns over regularly, making it a whole new experience each time you visit.
Connecticut | Best Used Bookstores
The Book Barn has grown from a single room into a sprawling paradise of more than half a million titles housed in four buildings, all within a mile of each other. The odds are good that you’ll find what you are looking for, assuming you don’t get sidetracked by one of the very friendly cats.
For more than three decades, this shop with a Housatonic River waterfall view has specialized in connecting customers with rare and out-of-print books, records, photos, and ephemera. Come for the treasures; linger for the scenery.
From the outside, there’s little to indicate that these two weather-worn barns, located in a pasture just minutes away from Yale University, contain a book lover’s bonanza of used volumes, old maps, and ephemera. But they do. Browse the lower barn for more scholarly and literary titles, or the upper barn for thousands of popular paperback and hardcovers, most priced at $5 or less.
Rhode Island | Best Used Bookstores
The shop’s proximity to RISD and Brown University keeps much of the focus here on arty and brainy stuff, including terrific selections of new and used books on art, architecture, film theory, philosophy, and history. Yet you’ll find plenty of treasures in the poetry, cooking, gardening, and fiction sections, too, as well as books by and about Providence’s master of the macabre, H.P. Lovecraft. Cool antiques, potted plants, and various flea market treasures round out the offerings.
The largest used bookshop in Rhode Island first caught my eye for its excellent selection of pulps and vintage paperbacks, but the ever-rotating stock of 70,000 volumes also includes an excellent variety of local history, art, poetry, modern first editions, and antiquarian books.
Ada offers sort of a flip side to the sprawling shops included on this list. This little shop is, by necessity, meticulously curated. Despite the space limitations, there is surprising depth to the selection of new and used books, comics, ’zines, posters, records, and cards.
New Hampshire | Best Used Bookstores
This southern New Hampshire institution started in Peterborough in 1972, and now boasts locations in Keene and Nashua as well. All three shops serve up a mix of new and used books, but it’s the Peterborough location where the used books really shine, given its terrific selections of popular and literary fiction, history, art, philosophy, and children’s and young adult books.
Sheafe Street Books is a throwback to the type of bookshop I’ve always loved: the crowded little shop where the offerings reflect the proprietor’s interests and personality. A wide range of books is available here, but the expansive selection of Beat Generation books, for instance, made me feel as though I’d connected with owner Ken Kozick before we’d even said a word.
With roots stretching back to 1964, this might be New Hampshire’s oldest used bookstore. Located a few minutes away from New England College, the Henniker Book Farm features more than 30,000 volumes in its carefully groomed collection — all watched over by Toby, the bookshop dog. The history and science sections are particularly robust, but there are treasures to be found across the spectrum.
Vermont | Best Used Bookstores
The two-story barn that houses this 10,000-volume selection of used and out-of-print books doubles as a venue for talented local musicians and an occasional screening place for old films. I enjoy the bookstore-as-community-center vibe, and I always seem to come away with a handful of unexpected reads.
With more than 160,000 books lining its towering shelves, Monroe Street is Vermont’s largest used bookstore. The selection ranges from current best-sellers to antiquarian rarities, and there is so much to see that it might be overwhelming were it not so well planned and organized.
Hermit Hill’s selection of used, out-of-print, and collectible books is certainly influenced by nearby Green Mountain College, but this cozy Main Street shop, complete with bookstore dogs, supplements its strong history, science, and poetry sections with plenty of modern first editions and Vermontiana.
Maine | Best Used Bookstores
This three-story shop and book bindery occupies a Victorian-era building perfectly suited to its old-timey feel. More than 40,000 books, ranging from antiquarian to nearly new, line the well-organized floor-to-ceiling shelves, along with fascinating old photos, maps, and other ephemera.
The Green Hand is simply a lot of fun. You’ll find a little bit of everything here, but owner Michelle Souliere’s playfully eclectic tastes are best reflected in the terrific selection of science fiction, horror, fantasy, classics, and humor.
The chickens are long gone, leaving books, collectibles, and antiques to share center stage in this 21,000-square-foot cabinet of curiosities. The second floor is devoted almost entirely to books (a mere 150,000 or so) and other print materials, including newspapers, posters, magazines, and charts. Surprises abound. This is treasure-hunting at its finest.
Any place we missed? Tell us about your favorite New England used bookstores in the comments below!
This post was first published in 2017 and has been updated.