Anyone who has ever attended a packed reading at the incomparable Babel author series at Kleinhans Music Hall knows Buffalo deeply appreciates the literary arts. Other cultural markers like the Mark Twain Room at the Central Library and the James Joyce Collection at the University of Buffalo Library confirm the city’s credentials as a place that loves books. But the literary pulse of a place is best taken in its bookstores – the retail establishments that make books an essential and enlivening part of our everyday lives.
Talking Leaves has been Buffalo’s premiere independent bookstore since 1971. This charming shop at the corner of Elmwood Avenue and Bidwell Parkway in the city’s Elmwood Village is one of those places where a reader can while away the hours just browsing through the staff picks assembled on a table at the front of the store. These are typically new and notable books that are worthy of your consideration — an eclectic batch, some history, biography, cultural criticism, bestsellers, sure, but also those brilliant obscurities that would escape your notice were it not for passionate booksellers. Talking Leaves is run by people who clearly cherish the written word and have made it their life’s work to share that passion with their customers. The kind of caring and commitment — to reading, books, literacy – that you find inside its walls simply can’t be replicated in an algorithm and it’s why a stop here is always such a pleasure. If you love books, you’ll love Talking Leaves. Coffee pairing: Caffe Aroma, right next door.
Buffalo’s other independent bookstore can be found on the other side of the city in South Buffalo. As its name suggests, Dog Ears Bookstore and Café at 688 Abbott Road is both a book and coffee shop. As such, it provides both intellectual and corporeal sustenance to the surrounding community. Alongside the bestsellers and classics, you’ll find soups and sandwiches and a hot cup of coffee – the perfect conclusion to a book buying expedition.
Buffalo also has some very fine used bookstores that are perfect for an afternoon spent browsing. Second Reader Bookshop at 1421 Hertel Avenue in the city’s North Park neighborhood has a trove of literary treasures. Art books, poetry, classics, recently read bestselling novels – this is a reader’s haven. Before stepping inside, take note of the colorful and artfully constructed window displays. Books never looked so good. Coffee pairing: Spot Coffee, just across the street at 1406 Hertel Avenue.
You’ll find two high quality used bookstores on the city’s West Side along Grant Street. West Side Stories at 205 Grant is a charming little spot that’s stuffed to the rafters with all manner of books, games and gifts. A couple of blocks north, Rust Belt Books at 415 Grant Street is another regular stop for Buffalo’s book lovers. Packed with every genre under the sun, Rust Belt also houses a community room that features poetry readings, lectures and performances of all kinds. Coffee pairing: Sweet_ness 7 at 220 Grant Street.
Someone once described Burning Books at 420 Connecticut Street as “Buffalo’s friendly, local, radical bookstore.” Burning Books specializes in books about social justice, the environment and politics. In other words, not your typical big box or online fare. That said, you don’t have to be politically active or even socially aware to enjoy this feisty independent bookstore. Everyone is welcome. Coffee pairing: Remedy House, 429 Rhode Island Street. (It’s a couple of blocks away, but well worth the walk.)
Finally, you’ll find one of the country’s largest antiquarian bookstores at Old Editions Book Shop at 954 Oliver Street in downtown North Tonawanda. Old Editions features used books for just about any taste or interest, but if you’re a serious book lover looking for that special first edition or rare collector’s item, this is the place to go.