In a city as diversified as Philadelphia, everyone has what they consider the place to which you simply must go. While for some that list includes shoe stores, eateries, or an off the wall shop on South Street, for me the treasure troves are book and comic stores. With that in mind, here are seven places my fellow bibliophile Dragons need to hit up.
130 S. 34th Street Philadelphia, PA 19104
While at first glance, this may sound like an excursion into enemy territory, Penn Book Center does not have an association with Penn University. Independently owned and operated since 1962, the store prides itself on serving the academic community of University City. A special effort is made to stock books by local authors, including from Drexel, Penn, Temple, and elsewhere in Philadelphia. On Independent Bookstore Day the store sent me on a nostalgic treasure hunt for old and memorable reads among their shelves. I’m hoping to find time to check out their new reading group that focuses on books from the 7 Middle Eastern and North African countries included in the current administration’s “Muslim ban” that first met last month. It is their way of doing “something, specifically as a bookstore, to resist the dehumanization of refugees, immigrants, Arabs, Arabic-speakers, and Muslims in the United States.”
2578 Frankford Ave Philadelphia, PA 19125
Going a bit farther afield is my personal favorite comic store. Boasting an extremely large selection of titles as well as a knowledgeable staff, after purchasing your comics, you can sit and enjoy them in the cafe area with a tasty caffeinated beverage and snack. I was recently hunting for an issue of Alters from Aftershock Comics. It is a new title from a new publisher; few places had it. At Amalgam, they had the complete run to date and were able to hook me up with the very newest issue. Notably, it is run by Ariell Johnson, the only black woman on the East Coast (and one of only five African Americans in the country) to own a comic book shop. Johnson’s dedication to diversity and representation in comics makes this a can’t miss stop. However, even if that is not your priority, you will not find a friendlier atmosphere to spend your time, and with the multitude of remarkable events Amalgam hosts, you are sure to find something of interest. Featuring accomplished authors such as Angela Meryl (the stunt woman for Beyoncé and Halle Berry), civil rights icon Congressman John Lewis, and renowned writer and journalist Ta-Nehisi Coates, their events will blow you away.
2006 Sansom St, Philadelphia, PA 19103
After hearing from several of my fellow students that the closest comic book store they could find was on South Street, I had to put Fat Jack’s on this list for the sake of convenience for overloaded Dragons who might not have time to both trek out to a more distant store and still read their finds. Fat Jack’s is located only about a mile from the University City campus. While I have not yet personally visited, this comic book store received a lot of great reviews and has an expansive selection, including a large back stock for catching up on your preferred series.
345 S. 12th Street Philadelphia, PA 19107
No matter your sexuality, Giovanni’s Room is worth visiting for the history. Occupying two buildings built in the 1800’s, Giovanni’s has been a bookstore specializing in LGBT literature since 1973. Carrying 7,000 titles on the shelves and 48,000 in their database from which they can order, Giovanni’s room carries more lesbian and gay books than any other brick and mortar store. An interesting tidbit is an anecdote I found on their website: “If you can get a staff member of the store to kiss you, then you will be in the direct succession of Walt Whitman’s kiss, which flows from Walt to Edward Carpenter to E.M. Forster to Allen Ginsberg to Bern Boyle, one of the founders of Giovanni’s Room.”
311 N 20th St Philadelphia, PA 19103
Owned by the Free Library of Philadelphia, Book Corner’s prices are the lowest I have ever seen in a used bookstore. Running on donations, this secondhand bookstore is operated by Friends of the Free Library. The downside of being entirely stocked by donations is that you will not see anything recently released, but the upside is the incredible deals to be had! Paperbacks are sold for between $1 and $2, while hard covers go for only $3. As this store does run on donations, if you have any texts acquiring layers of dust you can set up an appointment to make a donation.
704 South St Philadelphia, PA 19147
The Wooden Shoe, which recently celebrated its 40th birthday, is the anarchist bookstore of South Street. The store aims to be a living example of the political theory of anarchism, demonstrating that society can function without anyone taking command or being in charge and with everything decided collectively (their website expounds upon their philosophy). To that end, the store is managed and run entirely by volunteers. Due to a shortage of volunteers lately, hours of operation have been reduced, so I recommend calling ahead of any trip to the store. While you will have to pay the full publisher’s price for any materials you buy here, visit this non-profit collective just to be able to say that you did and shock your more conservative friends and family. The Wooden Shoe also hosts incredibly unique events that range from the informative to the entertaining, all with their unique socio-political slant. In the past year, they held an event for computer literacy and defense, a large number of musical performances, and many events exploring their take on the current direction of politics.
112 Cotton St Philadelphia, PA 19127
Tucked away in Manayunk, The Spiral Bookcase offers a carefully curated selection of gently used books and only accepts trade-ins in exchange for store credit that will fit into their parameters of their collection, such as new releases (within 2 years of publication), literature, sci-fi, philosophy, graphic novels, poetry, cookbooks, local history, vintage books, and children’s books. In the “Parlor of Peculiarities” you will find a significant selection of books on the occult, medical curiosities, hauntings, and more. You will also likely find Amelia, the five year old store cat that graciously allows us all in her store to peruse the books on offer. Also of interest to those who cannot get to the store on a regular basis, the Bookcase has recently started a mail subscription service for “adventurous readers.”
While this is far from a complete listing of the many unique book dealers in the city, this list is a good starting point for my fellow Dragons right now. Maybe in the future I will explore a few more and let you know what I find, or share a second list with my favorites outside the city proper. An even better idea would be for you to gather your fellow book lovers and explore the city’s literary book hoards together! I promise the recovery from a book crawl is less painful than the day after a pub crawl. What are your favorite places? Did I mention them or miss them? Where do you think I should head next for a good read?