A century ago, when naming a bookstore, you slapped the owner’s name on the front awning and called it a day. See: Misters William Barnes and Gilbert Clifford Noble when they hooked up in 1917. But today, most bookstore names are cuter, flashier, and funnier than “Boss #1 and Boss #2 Books” — because they have to be. “Smith and Jones Booksellers” just says, “We hold the lease on this establishment which contains books.” A name like “Read Handed” or “Buy the Book” says, “We got books and they live in a fun place tended to by fun people. Perhaps you’d like visiting more than book shopping via your phone between putting on your left and right shoes?”
Great bookstore names can be sassy, cute, inscrutable, or groan-inducing. When they work, they remind us of the creativity and moxie that makes us love bookstores a whole crazy lot. Below are 11 of our favorites.
1. Libros Schmibros Lending Library & Bookshop (Los Angeles)
Started by former book critic David Kipen from his personal library, Libros Schmibros pays tribute to its Boyle Heights neighborhood’s former Jewish and now Mexican-American population. The Spanish libros means “books”; Schmibros is the nonsense name of the store’s imaginary founders, Jewish paper peddlers named “The Schmee Brothers.”
Conceived over a long dinner and many glasses of Serbian wine, co-owners/married couple Nic and Juliette Bottomley wanted a bookstore name “so old-fashioned that it sounded modern” and screamed “labyrinthine haven for books.” They built it in their multi-award-winning shop, which has books piled in an old claw-footed bathtub on the sales floor, bathrooms papered in negative book reviews, and a private “reading booth,” rentable by the hour.
“Mr. B” was thought of as an imaginary cane- and hat-carrying landlord who curated the store’s shelves from a hidden office (a sketch drawing of him is part of the store’s logo), but Nic says he ends up taking all of the old man’s calls.
A compound of a classic novel and an unconnected author and why don’t more bookstores do this? Get moving on A Light in August Wilson or Green Eggers and Ham, please.
BTW, the logo of this 30-year-old shop specializing in the American Southwest is a whale wearing old Boz’s top hat, as it should be.
Can you think of a more perfect name for a bookstore in the basement of a historic building? There isn’t one.
Or how about a used and rare bookstore born on the mezzanine level of a building in Washington, D.C.? Second Story has outgrown its first home, but the name still fits one of the U.S.’s largest purveyors of “second stories.”
6. Malaprop’s Bookstore (Asheville, N.C.)
From the French phrase mal à propos (meaning, literally, “bad subject,” but used as stand-in for “inappropriate”), Malaprop’s is named after Ms. Malaprop, a character in the 1775 Richard Brinsley Sheridan’s play The Rivals with a hilarious gift for language foul-ups like “He is the very pineapple of politeness.”
7. Unoppressive Non-Imperialist Bargain Books (New York City)
Family-run Unoppressive Non-Imperialist Bargain Books played a key role in the Occupy Wall Street library — and is literal enough to also be called “your conservative brother-in-law’s worst nightmare.”
9. Wild Rumpus: Books for Young Readers (Minneapolis)
Befitting an establishment named for the gleeful salvo of Where the Wild Things Are (“and now, cried Max, ‘Let the Wild Rumpus begin!’”), this Twin Cities gem has pair of live-in chinchillas, Amelia and Mr. Skeeter, and a popular weekly story hour named “Tail Time!”
This warehouse/nonprofit gives away free books each weekend. Conditions are you can’t resell them and “limit is 150,000 books per person.” Otherwise, take all you want.
The Book Thing started in 1999, when a group of schoolteachers asked bartender/bibliophile Russell Wattenberg to scour up some titles for their students. As it grew, he struggled for a name and defaulted to “The Book Thing.” It stuck.
Mystery bookstores are a gold mine for names ominous and bloody (see New York’s now deceased Murder Ink and Michigan’s very much alive Aunt’ Agatha’s), but we love the pulpy, punny Murder by the Book in Houston, whose tagline is “Where a good crime is had by all!”
Kevin Smokler is the author of Practical Classics: 50 Reasons to Reread 50 Books You Haven’t Touched Since High School.