I’ve been lucky to travel across this great state over the years — and more recently while promoting a book — and one of the most blessed things we have is an assortment of independent bookstores that feel like they could only be where they are.
- The mountain bookstores feel like they belong in those hills, and the urban ones fit the neighborhoods around them.
So I figured I’d offer up a few of my favorites in Charlotte — and then a few others just a drive away. Here’s a guide to the shelves all around us.
Park Road Books, Park Road Shopping Center
It’s the original —“the cornerstone of independent bookstores in Charlotte” since 1977, as it says on its website.
What’s to love: Walk in and feel departed from the renovated shopping center that surrounds it. On the right, you’ll pass the bestsellers and the staff picks and the autographed copies from local authors, all lined up together. In the back is the sweeping children’s section and a bunch of comfortable chairs and couches.
- And if you’re lucky, you’ll run into Yola the Dog, the store dog, who was named one of Charlotte magazine’s 2019 Charlotteans of the Year.
Location: 4139 Park Rd.
Urban Reader Bookstore, University City
This Black-owned store opened in University City in July 2021 and quickly became a hub for discussions, poetry and sipping wine on the patio, for those who partake.
What’s to love: It has more than 3,000 books — from children’s books to coloring books to biographies — mostly from Black authors.
- Owner Sonyah Spencer is an Ohio native who found comfort in books after her oldest son died. She hopes Urban Reader can be a space where people can “embrace the culture, ask questions and heal.”
- Also, aside from the books, the store’s walls carry the colorful work of local artist Tajmah Allison, including portraits of James Baldwin and Jean-Michel Basquiat.
Location: 440 E. McCullough Dr., Ste. A-130
Main Street Books, Davidson
Davidson’s redbrick sidewalks and benches are an instruction more than a decoration: They tell you, if you want to best experience this town, you should stop. You should park. You should stroll.
- And when you do, you may stumble into this wonderful bookstore that has its own set of instructions: Stop, pocket that phone and read.
What’s to love: Aside from being in this quaint town? Plenty.
- You might find owner Adah Fitzgerald, or one of her knowledgeable staff members, ready to make a recommendation. They’re ready to tell you about the latest from a Davidson College professor such as Joseph “Piko” Ewoodzie’s “Getting Something to Eat in Jackson,” or from any numbers of local authors, such as Kimmery Martin’s “Doctors and Friends” or Gavin Edwards’ “Bad Motherf***er.”
Pro tip: Stop by the original Summit Coffee next door before or after the bookstore stop.
Location: 126 S. Main St., Davidson
I’ve Read it In Books, at Tip Top Market
Tip Top Market tickles the heck out of me. It’s a beer and wine shop, with a big back patio for gathering with pals — and it’s attached to a record store/bookshop.
- It’s heaven, in other words.
What’s to love: The bookstore portion is actually a separate business owned by Rob Banker, a one-time English major who spent much of his career as a technical writer for a software company, as the Charlotte Observer wrote in this nice profile last spring.
Banker moved the bookstore onto the vacant record store shelves in October 2020. It specializes in classic literature and “radical ideas.”
Pro tip: Grab a pint at Tip Top first, and see how fast you can lose an hour browsing on the music and books side of the store.
Location: 2902 The Plaza
A little drive away
And here are a few favorites within driving distance of Charlotte …
55 Haywood St., Asheville (about two hours west of Charlotte)
Maybe North Carolina’s most well-known bookstore, Malaprop’s has one of the most knowledgeable staffs in the state. Brilliant and kind. There’s also a coffee shop inside, and a huge collection of North Carolina books — from children’s to travel to novels.
- Pro tips: Fill your day with our recently updated list of 35 things to do, see and eat in Asheville.
304 S. Elm St., Greensboro (about 90 minutes from Charlotte)
What’s to love: It’s become the “center for culture” in Greensboro, my mentor and former college professor who lives there tells me. Scuppernong has a bar in the store with beer and wine, and hauls in great authors and music for events.
- Pro tip: It’s also a short walk from the International Civil Rights Center and Museum, which is located in the Woolworth’s that was the site of the first lunch counter sit-in on Feb. 1, 1960.
City Lights Bookstore, Sylva
3 E. Jackson St., Sylva (about three hours west of Charlotte)
What’s to love: When you’re this deep in the mountains, the stories all seem richer. City Lights has been a warm place for writers and readers and artists since poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti opened it in 1953.
- Also, if I didn’t include this one, my friend and Charlotte native David Joy, who lives out there, might hunt me down. It’s one of his favorite spots.
McIntyre’s Books, Fearrington Village
220 Market St. Pittsboro (about two hours east of Charlotte)
What’s to love: It’s also in a destination, just 15 minutes outside of Chapel Hill. Inside, manager Keebe Fitch and her team can tell you about all the local authors who’ve come through.
- Pro tip: Be sure to visit the rest of Fearrington Village, one of North Carolina’s gems. Eat at the AAA Five-Diamond restaurant if have a minute. But whatever you do, be sure to check out the Belted Galloway cows.