Not too long ago, the friendly neighborhood bookstore seemed like an endangered species. Chain stores and online retailers were threatening longstanding mom-and-pop ventures. Surveys suggested that fewer Americans were spending their leisure time reading.
More recently, however, independent bookstores have seen a strong resurgence in popularity. While the number of independent bookstores declined by about 40 percent between the mid-90s and 2009, their numbers had rebounded by 35 percent by 2015. Customers have grown more conscientious about supporting local businesses and appreciative of the events and amenities offered by bookstores; perhaps they just like going to a place where they can get a cup of coffee, pick up a quirky gift, and pet the store cat.
The southeastern Connecticut region has maintained a healthy range of choices for bibliophiles throughout this period. In addition to some longstanding stores, several new ones have popped up as part of the indie bookstore renaissance.
Bank Square Books
This shop has quite literally been a cornerstone of downtown Mystic since 1988. Located on a popular intersection west of the drawbridge, the business has grown to occupy two storefronts and offers a wide selection of new books, including a sizable collection of work by local authors. Bank Square Books regularly hosts author events and book clubs, and has also launched “Operation Paperback” to supply books to troops overseas.
53 West Main St., Mystic
Colin Bennett got started in the bookselling business in 2000 by selling volumes from the trunk of his car while traveling across the country. In 2015, he opened this used bookstore in Deep River. The business operates on a community-supported model, with members receiving benefits ranging from “Shuri” (10 percent off all purchases) to a top tier “Hermione” supporter (whose cost and benefits are only available if you inquire at the store).
171 Main St., Deep River
The Book Barn
In 1988, Randi White started a used bookstore in the basement of what is now called the Main Barn with a couch, a few bookcases, and some volumes purchased from yard sales. Today, the business has expanded to include the entire barn and several outbuildings, with hundreds of thousands of books available at the main site and two satellite locations. Most books go for $4, and the store has a robust book buying policy. Visitors to the Book Barn’s main location are also delighted by the resident cats and goats, as well as the quirky landscaping features.
41 West Main St., Niantic
Books on the Thames
The newest addition to the local bookstore scene, Books on the Thames opened in October 2019. Nicole Feldman-Frank formerly ran a menswear shop in Norwich before pursuing her ambition to sell books. The store offers both new and used titles, as well as several novelty items.
27 Broadway, Norwich
Launched in 1976 as Book Trader, this used bookstore changed ownership (and its name) in the summer of 2019. Boasting a collection of more than 30,000 volumes, Books Etc. also sells movies, music, and audiobooks. Customers are invited to bring in titles for cash or store credit.
1064 Poquonnock Road, Groton
In business since 1972, Breakwater Books features both new books and classic titles. It also has a children’s room with items such as games, puzzles, and toys, as well as a selection of calendars, greeting cards, and stationery. The store routinely hosts events such as author discussions and art receptions.
81 Whitfield St., Guilford
Formerly located in Westbrook, Burgundy Books first opened in 2005 and recently moved to a new home on the outskirts of Old Saybrook. Visitors can check out the selection of new books or attend events such as live music or author presentations.
1391 Boston Post Road, Old Saybrook
Since 1988, this store has been bringing a literary presence to downtown Old Saybrook. The store sells new and used books and has a large selection of local interest titles, including titles on nautical history and Katharine Hepburn.
146 Main St., Old Saybrook
Pourings and Passages
A nonprofit bookstore and coffeehouse opened in 2015, proceeds from this business support the St. James School in Danielson. Visitors can wander through eight rooms to peruse gently used books as well as movies, music, religious items, and arts and crafts supplies.
183 Main St., Danielson
Debuting in 2016, ReReads Bookshop offers a curated selection of titles, including some recent publications at a deeply discounted price. There is also a large collection of military, history, young adult, Christian, and middle grade books. The store holds monthly themes associated with individual authors of topics.
53 High St., Westerly
R.J. Julia Booksellers
This store is named in honor of Roxanne J. Coady’s grandmother, who died at the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp during World War II. Since 1989, R.J. Julia Booksellers has provided new books as well as gifts and toys. The store also features a book club, independently operated café, and frequent author visits – including many bestselling writers. The original store is in Madison, and a second location opened in Middletown in May 2017 as the Wesleyan University bookstore.
768 Boston Post Road, Madison
413 Main St., Middletown
Savoy Bookshop & Cafe
Launched by the owner of Bank Square Books in 2016, Savoy Bookshop & Café houses a wide selection of new books on two levels. The downstairs portion of the store is dedicated to children’s books, and includes a cozy reading area in a faux log cabin. The cafe lets visitors sit down with a pastry and a cup of coffee, tea, or kombucha. The venue hosts book clubs, a children’s story time, author events, and “Live at Savoy,” a series of comedic, dramatic, or musical performances.
10 Canal St., Westerly