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Extreme Bookstores

“What I say is, a town isn’t a town without a bookstore. It may call itself a town, but unless it’s got a bookstore, it knows it’s not foolin’ a soul.”


-Neil Gaiman, American Gods
Talkstory Bookstore, the Westernmost Bookstore in the United States. Artwork by Kathy Kovala.

If you haven’t figured this out already, I love books. I love bookstores and libraries. I love printed books and I love my ereader. I have spent some of my happiest days trolling through independent bookstores, hoping to find some new treasure. I usually find more than I can carry.

So the bookstores at the edges of civilization are fascinating to me. How do they survive? What little faith I have in humanity grows just a bit when I think about the folks in these places and their bookstores.

A couple of years ago, I went to Kuaui and ran across TalkStory bookstore – which claims to be the Westernmost Bookstore in the US. It’s in Hanapepe Town, 159.588359 W longitude. I bought a lovely book on Shakespeare’s Flowers here. This, of course, made me wonder about other Independent Bookstores in other directions. I haven’t visited most of these, but if I’m ever in these areas, I’m going to check them out.

Chapman’s Bookery, Ferndale, California

The Westernmost in the contiguous US might be Chapman’s Bookery in Ferndale, CA.  124.264175 W Longitude. I may be stopping by here next month…will update if I get there. Update: I DID make it to Chapman’s Bookery, which is in the heart of lovely historic Ferndale. Seriously, if you are in this part of the world, take some time to pop over and check out the gorgeous Victorian houses and the adorable shops. Chapman’s Bookery is a small shop on the main strip and when I entered, I was greeted by an enthusiastic clerk who told me about the super-secret back room with $1 paperbacks. Since she told the next three people about the paperback room, I feel no concern divulging the secret here.  The shop has a nice assortment of popular books, a slight emphasis on Christian Literature, and a ton of fun gifties. (I have to confess I’m a total sucker for the literary-themed knickknacks that you find at Indie shops.)  I found a slim book on the town of Ferndale with great photography at this shop.  I was traveling with my parents when making this stop, and they had decided to wait in the car while I went in – thinking I would only be a minute.  I guess I was more than a minute.  I was deep in the stacks when I heard my mother’s voice in response to the clerk’s pitch about the paperback room, “Oh, I’m just looking for my daughter, I think she got swallowed up in here.”  Indeed. 

Kona Stories Bookstore, complete with bookstore kitty.

Southernmost in the US – this is tricky. I thought it was Kona Stories on Big Island of Hawaii at 19.570912 North Latitude. Kona Stories is a charming bookstore and well worth a look-see, if you can tear yourself away from the beautiful beaches. I bought some lovely locally made cards here, which I’m hoping to frame soon. Don’t forget to say hi to the kitties running about. But Kona Stories is not actually the Southernmost.

Sovereign Tea & Books, in Pahoa, doesn’t go big on advertising.

A recent visit to Big Island led me to discover a small book store even further south, in Pahoa on the Hilo side of the Island. Formerly “Pahoa Used Books and Video,” a recent change of ownership has renamed the shop Sovereign Tea & Books. Pahoa Village is a quirky little row of shops, and worth a visit if you are tired of malls and chain stores. Have lunch at Kaleo’s (my dad swears by the ribs). If you are lucky, one of the local museums might be open. The bookshop isn’t well marked–there was no sign other than a small sandwich sign on the sidewalk. Whatever they are calling themselves, they sell used books and videos and have a 12 seat screening room that can be rented out, and at 19.494247 North Latitude, they take the title for Southernmost. I found a copy of The Night Circus here, which I read on my ereader but loved so much I wanted the printed version.

The “Bookshop” at Cooper Center also serves as a community hub.

An honorable mention, though, has to go to “Bookshop” at the Cooper Center in Volcano, Big Island. Although they do sell books (and have a cute sign that says “Bookshop,”) this was more of a thrift shop situation, rather than a true Independent Bookstore. Still, at 19.443234 North Latitude, it’s the furthest south, and worth noting. I found a copy of Bel Kaufman’s Up the Down Staircase, which was the first play I did in high school.

I haven’t visited the rest of these…yet.  Life goals. 

Southernmost in the Contiguous USBooks & Books at the Studios of Key West in Florida. 24.557723 North Latitude.

Easternmost in the US:  John Smith Bookstore Eastport, Maine.  66.985977   West Longitude.

Northernmost in the Contiguous US:   Northern Lights Book Store in Thief River Falls, Minnesota. 48.118492  North Lattitude.

Northernmost in all the US –another tricky one. Gulliver’s Books in Fairbanks Alaska previously held the title, but it closed in the last year or so.  There’s a Barnes & Noble up there, but I’m disqualifying them since they aren’t an indie shop. I think this title goes to Alaskana Raven Books & Things at 64.843404 North Latitude.

Northernmost in the WORLD? This is my candidate:  Nordkyn Bok & papir AS, in Kjøllefjord, Norway. 70.949873 North Latitude.

Southernmost in the World? Librería Boutique del Libro, Ushuaia, Tierra del Fuego Province, Argentina at 54.808579 South Latitude.

I didn’t look at Eastern/Westernmost in the world yet, mostly because the idea that they could actually be right next to each other hurts my brain too much too contemplate.

I welcome any corrections on the above – and if you visit any of these stores, send me a picture & tell me about it.

Originally posted as part of an article about The Last Bookstore in Los Angeles.

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