We explored numerous independent bookstores across the Valley and, though each one may have a treasure hidden somewhere, we've narrowed the offerings down to 13 of our absolute favorites. Each shop specializes in its own specific stock list and general atmosphere. But mainly, each one makes us want to empty our wallets and retreat to a quiet cozy place to read. We think you’ll feel the same way. As you peruse each one, be sure to ask the owners and booksellers what their favorite item in the store is. They will surely have a good story for you.
Book Gallery is an antique bookstore that specializes in rare copies of books from the biggest names in literature. The store, located in Arcadia, sells first editions and signed copies of all your high school English teacher's favorites, including extremely limited early copies of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, works from Richard Feynman and Philip K. Dick, and a beautifully crafted Dumas collection. And though there are some incredible obscurities (don't miss the $5,000 book written by an Italian doctor studying the plague and a copy of the first Bible ever to be printed by a woman), this store is for the literature aficionado, the die-hard collector, and those who treat books like family. Most items are in pristine condition and are meant to be collected. A sister Book Gallery is located in Mesa in what used to be a movie theater. You’ll find the same quality of inventory, but a different style, with rolling ladders and of course, lots of books. Both locations have been around for close to 30 years.
Half Price Books
The best part of Half Price Books is that it lives up to its name. At its Camelback location, the store carries tons of books sold at a percentage of what their competition charges. The store carries collectibles, classics, cheesy romance novels, and everything in between. There’s also a decent selection of records and comics, if that’s what you’re into. And, as if you needed another reason to support an area bookstore, the store has participated in the Million Book Donation Project and the Half Pint Library Book Drive. Additional locations are found in Mesa and Paradise Valley.
Zia Records Exchange on Camelback
Zia Records Exchange's biggest store is located at Camelback and 19th Avenue, and sells a variety of books, records, and curios that would elicit a giggle or smile from anyone. Make sure to head toward the $1 baskets in the back. The store carries an array of science fiction books and, somewhat surprisingly, has a decent selection of gardening books as well. Buyers can find new releases, as well as the classics, in new and used conditions. They also have an impressive selection of collectible and popular graphic novels that range in price from $1 to $50. Be sure to seek staff help if you’re in a hurry. They are friendly and informative — and often necessary to navigate the massive space. Other Zia locations are in Chandler, Mesa, north Phoenix, and Tempe.
Lawn Gnome Publishing
The epitome of hip and independent, Lawn Gnome in the Roosevelt Row District is the perfect hideaway in downtown Phoenix. There’s usually only one employee, and aside from the initial greeting, they leave you to browse in peace. Miles Davis or electronica plays softly through the speakers and creates the perfect ambiance for book browsing. Inside the store, you can find some classics, but the real treasures are the silly forgotten publications, like an Ellen Degeneres’ coffee-table book. The store's biggest mission, however, is its dedication to promoting local, first-time authors. Shoppers can purchase local art, pick up homemade zines, and show their support by attending frequent exhibits and readings on Lawn Gnome's patio. Though it only takes a couple minutes to see every product in the store, there’s a life in Lawn Gnome that can only come from a bookstore surrounded by a strong arts culture and community.
Alcuin Books in Scottsdale is a veritable gold mine of rare Arizona texts and other invaluable pieces of literature. For example, local history buffs can purchase the original copies of the Arizona Historical Review Volumes I and II, which includes articles and accounts by some of the state's most famous historians. Along those lines, visitors can also find old copper maps and business listings. Over the years, the store has acquired many libraries full of classics and antique books. Some of the most impressive selections include signed, first-edition copies of books by Jack London and James Joyce. Some of Alcuin’s books were created before the printing press was invented, but you’ll have to ask to see those. At Alcuin, you’ll come for the books, but you’ll stay for the conversation. Owner Richard Murian expresses such a deep passion for all things Arizona, it’s hard to leave for fear you’ll miss a good story or well-placed Bob Dylan quote.
Ash Ave Comics and Books
Ash Avenue Comics and Books has provided shoppers with some of the best comics in the Valley for more than a decade now. Owner Drew Sullivan keeps a well-curated selection of bound versions of comics and graphic novels. From the moment you enter the small store, you’re confronted with both modern and classic comics, all at prices that will cause sporadic spending you won’t later regret. Comics and graphic novels aside, Ash Ave also has an impressive collection of local zines that are worth checking out. Though the store's footprint is small, you won't have to look far to pick up an interesting new science fiction title that you (probably) won't find elsewhere.
Read on for more of the Valley's best book shops.