13 indie bookstores in Wisconsin every bibliophile should know about

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Whether you’re sitting outside enjoying beautiful weather or curled up inside during a snowstorm, it’s always a great time to crack open a book. Conveniently, if you’re in Wisconsin, you never have to go far to find one. There are numerous independently owned bookstores throughout the state to explore, from genre-specific stores to bookshops that specialize in books written by local authors.

Here are 13 indie bookstores throughout Wisconsin that every book lover should know about.  

Boswell Book Company

2559 N. Downer Ave., Milwaukee

Boswell Book Company first opened in 2009, but it dates back to a bookstore history far longer than its 15 years. The bookstore is owned by Daniel Goldin, who worked as a book buyer for Harry W. Schwartz Bookshop — an independent bookstore chain with several locations throughout southeastern Wisconsin and northeastern Illinois that dates back to the 1930s — until it closed. 

Nowadays, Boswell Book Company, located in Milwaukee’s East Side, sells new books as well as merchandise, games, puzzles, and toys. The bookstore also regularly hosts author events, with local and touring writers.

Photo courtesy of Boswell Books via Instagram.

Blue House Books

5915 6th Ave. A, Kenosha

Blue House Books started as a pop-up store, selling used books at community events and local businesses. After three years of operating as a pop-up, Blue House Books opened up a brick-and-mortar location in Kenosha. While the pop-up stand sold used books, the shop sells a wide array of new titles in its permanent location.

The bookstore has also made a name for itself by participating in community projects, like the KLC Book Club Project, which helps encourage literacy in Kenosha; Blue House Books sponsors the project’s book club titles.

Photo courtesy of Blue House Books via Instagram.

 

The Book Deal

3822 Mineral Point Road, Madison

Madison’s The Book Deal doesn’t just sell used books, it also gives them away. The bookstore was founded with the ambition to foster literacy in its local, Madison-based community. It offers up to five free children’s books per visit to children. For all other customers, the store has a wide-ranging selection of used books at its brick-and-mortar shop.

Although The Book Deal is primarily a used book store, shoppers can also purchase new books through The Book Deal’s website, which supports the independent bookstore. 

Photo courtesy of The Book Deal via Instagram.

 

Pearl Street Books

323 Pearl St., La Crosse

La Crosse’s Pearl Street is brimming with history, including at Pearl Street Books. While the bookstore has only been in operation since 2000, the building that it’s housed in was first constructed in 1885 and operated as the Arenz Shoe Company for close to 90 years before becoming a bookstore. 

Pearl Street Books sells new, used, and specialty titles, and also holds regular events. Every month, the bookstore hosts recurring events that include psychology circles, poetry circles, and philosophy circles.

Photo courtesy of Pearl Street Books.

 

Reads by the River

102 E. Main St., Waterford

Located right next to the Fox River in Waterford, Reads by the River opened in 2021, and sells a variety of books for all ages, in numerous genres. The store emphasizes engaging with the community and offers a 20% discount for teachers, and librarians ordering for their school. 

The bookstore also regularly hosts events with authors and gatherings that celebrate a love for literature, like the quiet book club, which gives attendees a chance to enjoy reading in a quiet space. 

Photo courtesy of Reads by the River Bookstore via Instagram.

 

Fair Isle Books & Gifts

1885 Detroit Harbor Road, Washington Island

Unfortunately, it’s not possible to visit Fair Isle Books & Gifts all year long. Located on Washington Island, just off the tip of Door County, the bookstore is accessible via a ferry to the island and is only open from late May through late October. But it is possible to buy books and other gifts from the store all year long on its website. 

The bookstore sells new and used titles, including books about the region. Additionally, Fair Isle Books & Gifts sells fair trade gifts, like clothes, bags, candles, and journals, as well as Washington Island-themed merchandise and gifts.

Photo courtesy of Fair Isle Books and Gifts via Instagram.

Arkana Books

800 S. Lawe St., Suite 303, Appleton

If you’re looking for a bookstore that’s stocking the most popular titles by authors like Stephen King, or Nicholas Sparks, Arkana Books in Appleton isn’t the place for you. But if you’re looking for something written by an LGBTQIA+ or Indigenous writer, then the bookstore might have what you’re looking for. Arkana Books specializes in selling titles written by underrepresented groups. The bookstore, which opened up in 2023, is owned by George Dodge, and stocks numerous genres, including horror, science fiction, fantasy, and romance.

The store offers a curated selection, but can special order in titles that aren’t available.

Photo courtesy of Arkana Books via Instagram.

 

Honest Dog Books

38 S. 2nd St., Bayfield

There aren’t many bookstores that specialize in selling books about dog sledding, but Honest Dog Books, in Bayfield, a city at the very northern tip of Wisconsin, is one of them. The store, owned by longtime dog mushers Julie Buckles and Charly Ray, opened in 2019 and sells all sorts of books (but especially those about dogs and dog sledding). 

The dog-friendly bookstore is expanding again this winter, by adding the Third Space, which will have room for a children’s reading area and additional space for author events.

Photo courtesy of Honest Dog Books via Instagram.

 

Lion’s Mouth Bookstore

211 N. Washington St., Green Bay

Since 2019, Lion’s Mouth Bookstore has been selling new and used books at its Green Bay location. The store also has regular author events, book signings, and pop-ups at locally-owned businesses throughout the city, including its monthly Books & Brews pop-up events, in which the bookstore sets up shop inside a local brewery for a night.

The bookstore doesn’t just sell books by world-famous authors; it also places an emphasis on supporting local authors, no matter who they’re published by. If local authors have self-published a book, or have had a book published by a company that the store does not directly work with, the authors can meet with Lion’s Mouth Bookstore to sell their book on consignment.

Photo courtesy of Lion’s Mouth Bookstore via Instagram.

 

Mystery to Me

1863 Monroe St., Madison

As its name would suggest, Mystery to Me in Madison offers a wide array of mystery books, but the store doesn’t limit itself to just one genre. The Madison-based bookstore opened up in 2013 and received much of its initial mystery inventory from Booked for Murder, a long-running bookstore that closed the same year.

Shoppers can always choose their own items from the store, but they can also receive a surprise selection of books curated by Mystery to Me’s staff if they sign up for the store’s book subscription service. The subscriptions, which range from three-month options ($75) to 12-month options ($300), provide customers with a carefully curated book each month based on the subscriber’s personal tastes.

Photo courtesy of Mystery to Me via Instagram.

 

Rainbow Booksellers

5704 W. Vliet St., Milwaukee

It’s pretty obvious to anyone who visits Milwaukee’s Rainbow Booksellers that they’re about to step into a bookstore. The outside of the city’s last bookshop that exclusively sells children’s titles is warm and welcoming, painted to look like a giant bookshelf. The store, which first opened in 1981, has occupied the same spot in the city’s Washington Heights neighborhood since 1994.

While shoppers can pick up their favorite titles from the brick-and-mortar store, Rainbow Booksellers also hosts book fairs throughout the state, and partners with local organizations to help set the fairs up.

Photo courtesy of Rainbow Booksellers for Children via Facebook.

BayShore Books

302 Collins Ave., Oconto

BayShore Books isn’t just a cute name — the new and used bookstore sits a few blocks away from Green Bay, servicing the city of Oconto. The store sells new and used paperbacks and hardcovers as well as a wide range of puzzles, gifts, and games. 

BayShore Books doesn’t just sell used titles — it also accepts a wide range of used titles from customers looking to get rid of a few books. In return, customers whose books are accepted by the store can receive store credit to restock their bookshelves.

Photo courtesy of BayShore Books LLC via Instagram.

 

Northwind Book & Fiber

205 Walnut St., Spooner

When it first opened in 1993, Northwind Book & Fiber in Spooner combined its founders’ passion for books and yarn into one by creating a one-stop shop for books and yarn. The shop, which is now owned by long-time employee Carol Blizzard Dunn, now does what it set out to do more than 30 years prior: sell more than 12,000 different book titles.

In addition to books, the Spooner-based store also sells yarn, and other materials for knitting and crocheting projects. Northwind Book & Fiber also offers knitting and crocheting classes in which attendees can learn how to make projects including baby sweaters, patterned hats, and cowls.

Photo courtesy of Northwind Book & Fiber via Instagram.

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Author

  • Erin Yarnall

    Erin Yarnall is a freelance writer based in northern Illinois. Her work has been published in Alternative Press, The Toronto Star, Time Out, The Chicago Tribune and Eat This, Not That, among other publications. When she’s not writing, Erin enjoys running marathons at a snail’s pace, going to concerts and traveling.

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