I love a good bookstore at any time of year, but there’s something about late fall and winter that makes them feel even more inviting. Maybe I’m subconsciously being lured by the tradition of the holiday shopping season; maybe it’s just that a cozy shop where you’re expected to linger is especially tempting when it’s freezing outside. Connecticut has dozens of bookstores, and though I haven’t been to all of them (yet!) I’ve been to most. For this post, I chose nine that I particularly like. These stores are a worthy addition to any itinerary if you’re traveling in the region, and an excellent option if you live nearby and are just looking for something warm to do on a blustery day.
A note: all of the following stores sell only new books. (I consider used bookstores, of which Connecticut has many, a distinct category that would require a post of their own!) All but one are independently owned.
River Bend Bookshop, Glastonbury
You could easily walk right past River Bend Bookshop, opened in 2018 and located in a historic house just beyond the busiest section of Main Street in Glastonbury, without noticing it was there. But it’s worth seeking out for its calming atmosphere and its wide selection of books, including new fiction and current events titles as well as tempting food and garden sections. There’s also a kids’ area, and a range of thoughtful gift options appropriate for many occasions.
R.J. Julia Booksellers, Madison
A long-time favorite of Connecticut bibliophiles, R.J. Julia Booksellers is a highlight of downtown Madison. The store, which seems small when you first walk in, continues back and around the corner and up the stairs, unfolding as you go into more corners full of shelves and tables stacked with cards, gifts, and, of course, books. Fiction and nonfiction are up front, but don’t miss the other, smaller sections like the travel shelves at the back. There’s also an upstairs area for kids and young adults. Both the bookstore and the attached cafe are attractive, homey spaces that make you want to stay longer. (There’s also a location in Middletown.)
Books on the Common, Ridgefield
Somehow, Books on the Common in downtown Ridgefield just understands how to stock all the books you didn’t know existed but will suddenly want to read. They’re all arranged in a pretty, sunlit space with a separate cute area for children’s books. Current events and fiction titles line both walls, and there are smaller, more niche sections – check out the local interest shelves for some obscure volumes on Connecticut and Fairfield Country topics – as well as some lovely cards and small gifts.
Hickory Stick Bookshop, Washington
You can’t always judge a book by its cover. But you’d be justified in assuming, based on The Hickory Stick Bookshop’s unique curved building, that this Washington Depot store is going to be special. Inside, the space is comfortable and unpretentious, with a selection of new releases, classics, fiction, nonfiction, and books on local topics, among others. They also stock books for kids and teens. The separate gift section goes beyond the usual bookstore knick-knacks and is almost a stand-alone store of its own.
Breakwater Books, Guilford
Located on the historic town green in the postcard-perfect center of Guilford, Breakwater Books is an old-fashioned local bookstore that feels modern thanks to its bright space and carefully chosen assortment of books, calendars, and cards. The store is relatively small, and the layout minimalist, so the selection is not huge; nevertheless, you’ll find plenty of titles to pick up and ponder as you walk around. There’s also a separate area for children’s books.
Diane’s Books, Greenwich
Almost hidden down a narrow side street in busy downtown Greenwich, Diane’s Books feels both sophisticated and small-town, with personalized touches like handwritten messages from authors on the walls. This quirky space, all little corners and nooks, is crammed full of books ranging from bestsellers to titles you’ve never heard of or seen elsewhere. In this self-described “family bookstore,” kids’ books get their own substantial section.
Elm Street Books, New Canaan
New Canaan’s Elm Street Books is relatively small, but it feels quite substantial thanks to the variety of items sold here. The pleasant space is crowded (in a cozy way) with shelves, racks, and tables piled with books and gifts. Whether you’re looking for fiction, history, health, travel or something you didn’t even know you wanted to read, this store will probably have it. This is the sort of shop that makes you think every town needs a community bookstore, and as a bonus, it’s right in the middle of one of Connecticut’s best walkable upscale shopping districts.
Bank Square Books, Mystic
A downtown Mystic staple, Bank Square Books is known for the whale statue outside its corner storefront and, more to the point, for its wide selection of books for adults and children. This deceptively large store carries a range of genres, as well as cards, toys, journals, and other gifts. The decor is decidedly no-frills, but there are comfortable chairs and couches arranged throughout the space. (If you’re in the area and you love bookstores with dreamy interiors, the owner of Bank Square also runs the gorgeous Savoy Bookshop & Cafe just across the state line in Westerly, RI.)
Barnes & Noble UConn Hartford Bookstore
It’s the one chain bookstore on the list, but this Barnes & Noble is not something you’d find in your nearest suburban shopping center. (Though those have their uses too, don’t get me wrong.) For one thing, it’s located in the newly redeveloped Front Street District of downtown Hartford. For another, this shiny new space is a branch of the UConn Bookstore, which makes it a specifically Connecticut kind of place: one part of the store is devoted entirely to UConn gear. Other sections hold books (not just textbooks!), school supplies, and a Starbucks. There are also magazines, a little section of convenience store type snacks, and plenty of places to sit.