Get Lost in Baltimore’s Independent Bookstores
See where the citizens of "The City That Reads" stock their personal libraries, from cozy bookstore cafes to more niche indie shops and expansive storefronts.
Baltimore has been home to many legendary writers, from the father of detective fiction Edgar Allan Poe to journalist Ta-Nehisi Coates, and is filled with literary history and monuments. Much of that talent is cultivated in and supported by the city’s independent bookstores, which, more than sell merchandise, serve as creative community hubs. Whether you’re looking to complete a collection, find a gift, grab a pick-me-up or just browse cool titles you won’t find anywhere else, you’ll want to add these shops to your Baltimore bucket list.
In town this spring? Don’t forget to swing by the first-ever Waverly Book Festival, taking place April 28-30.
With a slogan like “literary finds for mutated minds,” it’s no surprise that this shop located in Hampden houses a wide selection of quirky reads you won’t find in other bookstores. Pick a title from their “Atomic Canon” collection, a smorgasbord of books with arty covers and edgy titles like “Memoirs of a Sword Swallower” and “Scum Manifesto.” Atomic Books is also the place to purchase any John Waters-esque books and art, as it serves as the Baltimore visionary’s fan mail collection site. After shopping, grab a drink at Eightbar, hidden at the back of the bookstore.
Bird in Hand
For an elevated bookstore and coffee shop experience, visit Bird in Hand in Charles Village. Owners Ed and Ann Berlin, who also own The Ivy Bookshop, have been perfecting their blend of “coffee, books and community” since 2016, and the vibrant space celebrates Charm City’s literary culture. Colorful must-read titles line floor-to-ceiling shelves, and other displays proudly feature goods from Baltimore makers and artists. The cafe serves Thread coffee, a woman and queer-owned company, as well as mouth-watering pastries from a cohort of local businesses.
The Book Escape
Don’t let the small storefront in historic Federal Hill fool you, The Book Escape has endless amounts of new, used and rare books. In addition to the ones on shelves, The Book Escape has more than 40,000 books in storage that are searchable through its website.
Charlotte Elliott & The Bookstore Next Door
Charlotte Elliott owner Charlotte Hays is a fourth-generation antiques and art dealer, so you can trust she’s got an eye for vintage wares. Charlotte Elliott is filled with fun fashions, decorative objects, porcelain, textiles, metalware and so much more. Her literary eye is equally impressive, and the aptly named The Bookstore Next Door features two levels of books – from fiction and science to poetry and cookbooks.
Charm City Books
Located in the historic Pigtown neighborhood near M&T Bank Stadium and Camden Yards, Charm City Books is a quaint and colorful reprieve from Baltimore’s busy downtown. On the ground floor, you’ll find a comprehensive collection of modern fiction, memoirs and literary theory, including titles from Baltimore-based authors like D. Watkins and R. Eric Thomas, while the top floor contains selections for the little readers in your life. In addition to books, you’ll find stationary, stickers and Charm City souvenirs; you’re also likely to spy the owners’ four-legged friends roaming around the shop, helping customers select the perfect story!
Drama MaMa Bookshop
Alisa Brock, owner and Drama MaMa in question, proclaims that we should “write…and then write some more.” Whether you’re creating the next great novel or scribbling a quick grocery list, Drama MaMa Bookshop supplies all the coolest stationery you’ll ever need. You can even customize your own journal, adding a logo or image and choosing the cover and paper type.
Dreamers & Make-Believers
Like many of us, Miranda Nordell turned to books during the pandemic but found it difficult to obtain new stories with libraries closed and a lack of bookstores in her vicinity. Eventually, Miranda decided to fill the gap herself, and Dreamers & Make-Believers was born. The Highlandtown shop offers a robust selection of comics and books that uplift queer, BIPOC and female voices. The shop also hosts various niche book clubs and other community events.
Greedy Reads is a light-flooded book shop in Fell’s Point opened in 2018 by Julia Fleischaker, a Maryland native who moved back after working in publishing for nearly two decades in New York. A deep love of books and desire to create community drives her store’s ethos and programming, which includes a book club and discussions, and led to a second location in Remington, just blocks away from popular food hall R. House and beloved local shops like Mount Royal Soaps and the Remington Bottle.
The Ivy Bookshop
The Ivy Bookshop on Falls Road is a well-stocked independent bookstore with everything from bestsellers to niche titles. Find your perfect book with the help of knowledgeable book advisers, join a book club or meet visiting national and local writers.
Normals Books & Records
For more than twenty years, Normals has served as the watering hole to Waverly’s bookish community—a place where creators, readers and alternative thinkers could gather to share ideas and appreciate art. The store is the home to Red Room Collective’s High Zero Festival and it frequently hosts poetry readings, film showings, dance performances and more. As for the books, expect lots of philosophy, ancient Greek and Roman texts, speculative fiction, classic literature and contemporary authors like Octavia Butler and Cormac McCarthy.
Protean Books & Records
One of the largest independent book and record stores in Baltimore (as in more than 20,000 titles large), Protean Books & Records is a cozy contrast to the lively bars and restaurants in the Federal Hill neighborhood. In addition to books, Protean sells board and video games, records, clothing and costumes, turntables and novelty items.
Red Emma’s Bookstore & Coffeehouse
Named for Emma Goldman, a 19th-century anarchist, feminist and activist, Red Emma’s is a radical worker-owned cooperative project consisting of a vegan cafe and bookstore. A self-described “infoshop,” Red Emma’s aims to bring people together to exchange ideas not often covered by the mainstream media. At their space in the Waverly community, they’ve hosted conversations with authors and activists such as Chelsea Manning and Dorothy Roberts.
Station North Books
This cozy, unassuming book nook in the Station North Arts & Entertainment District specializes in rare books and antiques. Professor Ned, the owner, has been collecting books since 1987, and his store is stocked with incredible first edition finds such as a 1903 five-volume collection of Edgar Allan Poe’s complete works. Located across the street from Penn Station, it’s the perfect place to pick up some new reading material before your train travels.
The Sound Garden
Since opening in 1993, The Sound Garden has earned praise for its unparalleled stock of CDs and DVDs (they house more than 100,000). But while they’re known for their music collection, The Sound Garden also has a robust selection of new hardcover and paperback books. Genres range from fantasy to historical nonfiction to celebrity memoir. Find them in historic Fell’s Point, once the home to abolitionist and author Frederick Douglass.
With a store in Waverly and a new stall inside the historic Lexington Market, Urban Reads is on the rise—and for good reason. This hub for books by Black and imprisoned authors also serves as a community gathering space, thanks to its free internet, notary services, on-site vegan cafe and frequent events. Urban Reads also frequently amplifies local charity drives and social justice movements on its Instagram and uses its platform to educate its audience on racism, prison reform and other systemic issues.
Vinyl & Pages
Beyond offering a curated selection of new and used records and books, this Black-owned store in the Bromo Arts & Entertainment District reserves space on its shelves for other small business owners and creatives to showcase their products. It’s powered by Eric and Lynnette Dodson, the owners of the popular Cuples Tea House, so it’s no surprise that every aspect of the store—from the art on the walls to the music playing in the shop to the prices of the merchandise—is intended to create an accessible, creative atmosphere that inspires imagination and collaboration. A community hub, Vinyls & Pages also hosts author events, book signings, art shows, game nights, music jams and more.