Despite the threat of e-books and increased purchasing made through online outlets, the independent bookstore market has continued to draw a crowd. As a burgeoning, modernizing Western state, with an expanding university community and the perpetual muse of its wilderness, Montana enjoys a vibrant economy of smalltime booksellers.
Year after year, the Bookshelf has been heralded as the best bookstore, independent or otherwise, both in Bozeman and statewide. Since its original incarnation in 1957, this space has since become a landmark. And its oozes the allure of any smalltime bookseller, renowned as much for its eclectic selection of out-of-print and esoterica as its down-to-earth, informative staff. Come with a wish-list, or don’t: Either way, one’s leaving with a stack of books.
Approaching its 20-year anniversary, Shakespeare is truly independent:A self-contained operation exuding free-thinking in all its operations. Though legally unrelated to similarly named institutions in Paris and New York, this local establishment indeed shares their focus, true to its namesake: An Old World appreciation of quality literature. Come for new releases or reprints of the classics.
Like any independent store competing in the global market, Chapter One has a website for purchasing. But that’s not why one goes to an independent bookstore, just for a book. Having something to read is important. But wanting to read it is different. And this casual, well-stocked and bell-and-whistle-free shop provides that homey atmosphere in which there’s a desire to read, a desire to untether oneself and wade into an abyss of ABCs.
The sax-playin' bluesman on the sign, alongside a stack of books, teases all one needs to know: This place is truly “cool.” And “cool” isn’t just the 90s slangimplying hip, but also the blues-rooted mentality of casual, down-to-earth and focused on art. The pleasantly-dated neon sign, and the backdrop of dimly-lit, homey shelves of independent paraphernalia doesn’t take itself too seriously. There’s nothing fancy, just some decent reading, and some vinyl if one is so inclined.
Admittedly, Conley’sfocus is on music: Instruction, materials and repair. But it has a nice selection of new-release books and Montana-centric brochures. But more importantly, it embodies the small-scale bookstores vibe of unpretentious, welcoming and without hurry. It doesn’t have the best selection, but the mountain environs outside, and the friendly aura within, make Conley’s an important addition of Montana artistic independence.
On Higgins Street, the ornate, retro designs on the front of its flagship are immediately pleasing to seekers of literature. The facade’s designs connote a liberal, artistic spirit. An eclectic open-mindedness and enough square footage to house an impressive selection of books. This two-story institution has been a draw for locals, and its recent successes spawned a second location within the bookstore at the University of Montana. The venue is a great median between the independent attention to the out-of-print and the resources and space of larger chains.
Since the late 1980s, the ‘Cellaris a bastion that has survived the perceived threat of electronic-based books. In fact, the store’s continued longevity is an example of the opposite effect: The younger generation is actually rebellingagainst e-reading and rediscovering the classics, in their hardcopy form. The allure here is this sensitivity to the modern classics, keeping them stocked and providing a space in which people can enjoy a passage, or chat with a fellow bibliophile.
There are a handful of decent bookshops hidden in the crannies of the state’s vibrant wilderness areas. And near Yellowstone, one of the state’s hallmarks, Tumbleweed is a satisfyingly quaint example. Not only can one have a decent breakfast burrito or panini, but she can read up on the park and its attractions to plan a day trip or expedition, or grab a bestseller to read on the drive, snaking past a sea of fur and conifer and glacier while absorbing Hemingway. A moveable feast indeed.
This brick storefront in the university town of Helena is a great embodiment of those catch-all shops dotting the suburbanizing West. As mom-and-pops increasingly close throughout rural America, services and products are condensed and compartmentalized into general stores. Bonnie’s is such an establishment, blending the independent bookstore with gift shop and small, specialty grocer. The charm here is its authentic selection of Western tchotchkes and books.