Anyone who has ever attended a packed reading at the incomparable Babel author series at Kleinhans Music Hall or Just Buffalo Literary Center’s reading series at Silo City 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, at 951 Elmwood Avenue, 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.
Taking a trip around Delaware Park into the Parkside neighborhood, Alice, Ever After Books at 295 Parkside Avenue, sells diverse children’s literature and toys. The passion project of a former educator, the store’s selection inspires children’s curiosity – and that includes special events and community gatherings, too.
Coffee pairing: Jam Parkside, located on the same block.
Another independent bookstore can be found on the other side of the city in South Buffalo. As its name suggests, Dog Ears Bookstore & 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.
A recent addition to Buffalo’s book culture can be found at Fitz Books at 433 Ellicott Street in downtown Buffalo. The new bookstore features a curated selection of literary fiction, poetry, African American studies, as well as books on social movements.
Coffee pairing: Overwinter Coffee at 9 Genesee Street.
Buffalo is home to one of the longest-operated independent black-owned businesses in the country, Zawadi Books at 1382 Jefferson Avenue. Owners, Kenneth and Sharon Holley, have plied their trade as booksellers for over 40 years, in an earlier incarnation as Harambee Books, and for the past seven years, under the name “Zawadi”—Swahili for “gift”. In addition to current popular fiction and non-fiction focused on Black storytellers, Zawadi shoppers can find poetry, genealogy, cookbooks, young adult books, a local authors section, greeting cards, artwork, T-shirts, and seasonal items, as well as an array of strikingly-illustrated books for children.
Coffee pairing: Golden Cup Coffee at 1323 Jefferson Avenue.
You’ll find two high quality used bookstores on the city’s West Side along Grant Street. The Rust Belt Bookstore 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 occasionally features poetry readings, lectures and performances of all kinds. While West Side Stories at 398 Grant is a charming little spot that’s stuffed to the rafters with all manner of books.
Coffee pairing: Remedy House, 429 Rhode Island Street. (It’s a couple of blocks away, but well worth the walk.)
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: Breadhive, 402 Connecticut Street. Just down the block they’re known for creative and delicious breakfast sandwiches, too.
Heading just a bit to the north into the Black Rock community, Black Rock Books, at 43 Hamilton Street, opens just in time for Independent Bookstore Day on April 29, 2023. This bookstore promises “a great selection of new and used books as well as some puzzles, pens, and notebooks”. In addition, they state, “our cozy couches and tables provide a space for quiet reading or lively conversation…You will find all genres on our shelves, but we take great pride in cultivating independent books and under-represented voices”.
Venturing outside of the city, The Bookworm at 34 Elm Street in nearby East Aurora has been around since 1986 and is known as a discount bookstore and paperback exchange.
Coffee pairing: Elm Street Bakery, just down the block at 72 Elm Street. Coffee and some of the region’s best baked goods.
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 a treasure trove of used books, posters and ephemera that could keep the most dedicated bibliophile busy for days. If you’re a serious book lover looking for that special first edition or rare collector’s item, this is the place to go.