7 Bookshops Worth the Stop

Madison area bookshops

By Laura Anne Bird | Photo: Leopold’s Books Bar Caffe; Photography by Ilana Natasha Photography

Ordering a book online from a mass-market retailer is as easy as clicking a few buttons, but when it lands on your doorstep a day later, you’ve missed out on an opportunity to support our local economy.

Madison is home to an enviable number of independent bookshops, and each one is deeply invested in the community. This means that “shopping indie” offers a meaningful alternative to browsing the internet.

“We live here, eat here and donate here. We care about what happens to our customers,” says Sydne Conant, buyer and bookseller for A Room of One’s Own. “You get more back when you shop local. You get it in taxes, jobs and services — but also in personalized care and curation.”

Charlotte Martin, events manager at Mystery to Me, agrees. “We encourage people to find pleasure and joy in the physicality of a bookstore, including the smell and feel of tangible books.” Rick Jacobs, who co-owns The Book Deal, adds, “Independent bookstores have their own way of actively working to enhance the communities they’re a part of. Ours is to foster literacy through affordable and free access to books.”

If you don’t feel like shopping in person, contact any of Madison’s booksellers to inquire about curbside pickup and other helpful services.

LEOPOLD’S BOOKS BAR CAFFÈ

“Leopold’s is open until midnight six nights a week,” says bookstore manager Molly Fish. Rather than organizing books by genre, she and owner Sam Brown group them by geographical focus, which makes for a fascinating browsing experience. “Folks often tell us they stumble upon their new favorite titles serendipitously,” she says. Leopold’s, which opened in 2021, also curates a large section on Wisconsin history and culture, with a spotlight on local authors.

1301 Regent St., leopoldsmadison.com

MYSTERY TO ME

“Mystery to Me is the first stop for mystery readers, but we’ve expanded our fiction and children’s sections by an order of magnitude,” says events manager Charlotte Martin. Established in 2013 by Joanne Berg, Mystery to Me is woman- and queer-owned, and it strives to be a gathering space where all people feel welcome. “Bookselling is like being an emotional pharmacist. I’m proud to be a part of a team that are all such excellent listeners,” says Martin.

1863 Monroe St., mysterytomebooks.com

A ROOM OF ONE’S OWN

One of the oldest feminist bookstores in the country, A Room of One’s Own opened in 1975. Owners Gretchen Treu and Wes Lukes oversaw the shop’s recent relocation to Atwood Avenue, set in a beautiful historic building. “We have long catered to women, progressives, and LGBTQIA communities,” says buyer and bookseller Sydne Conant. “More recently, we’ve also taken a strong stance on abolition and anti-racism as we strive to be as intersectional as possible.”

2717 Atwood Ave., roomofonesown.com

ARCADIA BOOKS

Since James Bohnen opened Arcadia in 2011, the shop has sold all genres: literature, children’s, history, memoirs, biographies, theatre,poetry, mystery, science fiction/fantasy and cooking. “Our customers like the mix, and we can do special orders if there’s a title we don’t stock,” says co-manager Todd Miller. “Shopping at an indie bookstore — in person or online — supports local jobs. Plus, you get so much more customer service.”

102. E. Jefferson St., Spring Green, readinutopia.com

ITTY BITTY BOOKSTORE

Dominique Lenaye opened the only Black-owned business on Stoughton’s Main Street — and one of the few Black-owned bookstores in Wisconsin — in 2021. Located originally in a 120-square-foot office space (she has since upgraded to a larger space), the shop has tons of titles. Every month, Lenaye curates an exquisite collection of titles that celebrate authors and characters from marginalized groups. “At Itty Bitty, we want you to read, love your skin and repeat,” she says.

123 E. Main St., Stoughton, ittybittybookstore.com

THE BOOK DEAL

“We’re a mission-driven bookstore with a quirky location and a warm, neighborly atmosphere,” says Rick Jacobs, who owns The Book Deal with brother Jimbo and friend Josh Derr. Their aim? To positively impact literacy in Madison. “We have over 30,000 used books for under $4. For each one sold, we give a book away to the community.” Since 2018, the Book Deal has offered an extensive assortment of titles, including current, out-of-print and scarce books.

319 W. Beltline Hwy, Madison, thebookdeal.com

KISMET BOOKS

“Kismet stands for everything that makes communities strong,” says owner Rye Kimmett, who opened the bookstore in 2020. “We use our beautiful Brick House Studio upstairs to show off local artists and host community events for free.” Kismet offers titles and unique gift ideas for every kind of reader, with a focus on science fiction/fantasy, young adult and picture books. “Where you choose to spend your money matters,” Kimmett says. “Every dollar you invest in a local indie bookshop is an investment in your community and a step towards a better world.”

101 N. Main St., Verona, kismetbookshop.com


For a list of great local coffee shops to visit (with a good book) – click here!

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