All book lovers have their favorite places to go when they feel the need to own a book. But what is it about the place that makes us want to go back repeatedly? What makes us want to recommend the store to others?

As my husband and I travel around the country we are always looking for places to find some reading pleasure. We’ve developed a list of criteria we use to rate the merits of the various bookstores. Here’s our list:

  1. Appearance or first impressions tells a lot. When I walk in the front door I want it to say “Welcome. We have just what you’re looking for”. I like to stand right inside the front door and see what sections are begging me to come and explore. I also like clean, well lit stores with mellow background music.
  2. Variety of books but not necessarily lots of genres. Small bookstores can’t carry everything but I like to see variety within their niche. For instance, if a store specializes in mysteries, do they have a wide variety of authors as well as a variety of sub-categories? We each have certain genres we’re looking for. My husband looks for thrillers and mysteries and, if they have any westerns, the store’s rating goes way up.
  3. The staff in a store can make all the difference. Sometimes I like to just wander about and sometimes I’m looking for something specific. I like staff who respect both. I like staff who make eye contact at the beginning of my visit as a way of saying welcome and acknowledging that they know I’m there. I like the stores that have little cards hanging below the shelves of books the staff has read and liked. I especially like staff who see I have one author in my hand and suggest another book by the same author or a similar author/book. But don’t do it in a pushy way.
  4. I also need a little comfort in a bookstore. A chair or stool are nice to rest my legs for a few minutes. I don’t really need the fancy sofas and plush chairs some places have. I’m not planning to live there. I just want to rest and contemplate a book or two. I like the chairs scattered throughout the store and not just in one corner. Some bookstores have coffee shops attached or have a coffee urn. It’s probably nice for those people who drink coffee. I’m not one of them so it’s hot critical to me. On the other hand, a cookie or two is nice.
  5.  I have to say that cost is a factor, mostly in how many books I buy.  We are going to read because that’s just what we do. But if a store has a coupon or a used-book section or some other kind of discount plan, we buy more. 
  6. And then we look for the extras. What makes this bookstore special?  Some sponsor events, author readings, book clubs or book launch parties. Some have rare books, or a big travel section, regional authors, art and music, audiobooks, magazines and newspapers. The extras give the store it’s personality. 

There’s our list. What did we miss? What do you look for in a great bookstore? Tell me about your favorite bookstores.

Dawn at She Is Too Fond of Books has a feature every Wednesday focusing on different bookstores around the country. I’m going to be writing a post over there in a couple of weeks about a great bookstore in Northern California. I hope you’ll join me.

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