The Cream City (Milwaukee) has a vibrant local bookstore scene despite the recent economic downturn. Some well-known stores didn’t make it through the market crash (Harry W. Schwartz Bookstores (website) and Broad Vocabulary, a feminist bookstore) but others have. Here are some of the funner and way cool locally owned and operated in the Milwaukee area.
People’s Books (website): One of the coolest little dives you’ll ever find if you Geek bookstores! Their site has most of their history, so I wouldn’t give that away. But, if you dig radical reads about philosophy, social or political issues are seriously hard to find books, this is the place to go!
Almost nobody knows about this tiny place. Its blocks from UWM on several bus lines and connected to a local coffee shop. Its a Co-op, so most ’employees’ are volunteers. They also do some of UWM’s textbook distribution, but there are two other bigger stores for that. Several professors actually use People’s exclusively!
Who will like it: Rare book geeks, libertarians & far-left liberals (seriously, both!), the socially conscious, and those who want to buy local.
Who might not like it: Those who love Barnes and Noble or Borders, people looking for pop fiction, or those who don’t like books that make you think.
Downtown Books (website): I want to say ‘Your typical used bookstore’, but I would be grossly misrepresenting the vastness and sheer greatness of this book nook! As the site professes, its 2 and a half floors of books. What’s that mean to you, the shopper? Usually that would mean piles and boxes of books and helpless searches if you had a particular book in mind. Not here.
Well organized by genre and author name. Entire rooms for Comics, Horror, pop fiction, literature, romance, and absolutely every reference and non-fiction genre you could want. From cookbooks like “How to Cook His Goose” to 1960’s Betty Crocker, NASCAR to travel, memoirs to local authors. As an added bonus, the building its located in is one of the oldest commercial buildings in Milwaukee, ask about the architecture.
Who will like it: used book lovers, window shoppers, everyone.
Who might not like it: those who only buy books new, those who want to have coffee and sit and read all day in the store (there’s no real room for lounging, but you could probably find a nook where no one would ever find you), it can be tough to maneuver once you get to the second floor.
Boswell Book Company (website): This new gem born of the ashes of one of the 2 Harry W. Schwartz stores in Milwaukee (others were speckled around the County and surrounding counties), is what most hipsters and locals probably think of when they think local bookstore, which is not a bad thing.
Very clean and bright. It looks and feels like a Barnes and Noble or Borders in terms of general layout and comfortable feel. There is plenty of room to browse or sit and read with a Starbucks coffee from next door. They bring in speakers, authors, and other local events, and are deeply involved in local goings-on.
Owned by Daniel Goldin, a former long-time employee of the Schwartz bookstores, his knowledge of the business shows both when you speak to him and when you walk in his store.
Who will like it: people shopping for new books, looking for ‘something like this one author I know’, and want to buy and support local businesses without giving up those comfy chairs to lounge around in.
Who might not like it: those interested in a large selection of used books, like to browse piles of older experienced books, and don’t like comfy chairs and friendly staff
Of course there are a long list of bookstores in the area: Half-Price books in several locations which is mostly used books (review of other bookstores in the area), CDs/DVDs; Renaissance Books in downtown if you have time to go through their huge selections but lack of organization (AC review of Renaissance); Woodland Pattern which specializes in poetry.