I’m more than happy to travel hours and even states away to visit a great independent bookstore, but living in Albany, I’m pretty lucky that I don’t really need to go that far to find excellent bookshops right near home. There are two dozen or more within an hour’s drive of Albany, and I’ve already written columns exploring those in Rensselaer County, southern Vermont, Kingston and Saugerties, Schenectady, and parts beyond, but if someone wanted to stay within Albany County itself and hop on a bike or bus to take their own literary hometown tour, they won’t be disappointed by what they find. From bookstores that offer the newest releases to those that specialize in vintage and discounted mass market paperbacks, Albany has all the literary bases covered.
And it’s hard to say which of Albany bookstores is “the best” because each offers something a little different from all the others. But let’s assume someone is shopping for a new book, that hot celebrity memoir, or political exposé. It’s easy enough to just drop by Barnes & Noble at Colonie Center, but why slog through mall parking and that Wolf Road/Central Ave. interchange when you can glide into Stuyvesant Plaza right down the road and visit one of the best bookshops for new books in the Capital Region?
The Book House of Stuyvesant Plaza will always have a special place in my heart. I bought my first book of poetry there, back in the spring of 2005, and it changed my life. For a long time I wasn’t able to return, but upon moving back to the Albany area in 2015, this shop has become a staple. The staff have done an excellent job of plastering the shelves with their detailed recommendations, and there is a wonderfully large children’s and YA section in the rear. The shop has chairs throughout for relaxing, especially up front where the bestsellers and new titles are on display, and the front area often holds events, readings, and signings. They always have something interesting going on, and check that discount table on your way in for really great deals!
But no city is complete without at least one truly excellent used bookstore, and luckily Albany has two within blocks of each other in the Center Square neighborhood: Dove & Hudson and Urban Aftermath.
Dove & Hudson is tucked neatly into the historic Center Square neighborhood of Albany. Full of 19th century brownstones, churches, shops, and cobbled streets, the neighborhood is a balance between tightly packed residential homes and commercial streets full of restaurants, bars, and cafes. Parking can be tricky at times but this shop is worth it. They buy books as well as well, and they have a few shelves in the front area presenting their newer purchases, granted in unordered piles, although this does make for some fun, anything-goes browsing.
The literary nonfiction section is the real goldmine in this shop. From essays and letters to memoirs and biographies, this section is chock full of literary criticism and reflection. I happily snagged a hardcover biography on George Orwell and an excellent paperback version of Once There Was a War by John Steinbeck, which is filled with his essays from the Second World War—just $12 for the pair. Not shabby, and I saw plenty of recent history hardcovers that I’d purchased at full or near full price elsewhere for just a few dollars apiece at this shop. Now I know—always check Dove & Hudson first.
Right around the corner on Hamilton is Urban Aftermath. To say it’s just a bookshop also does the store a disservice. Hassan, the owner/operator, has cultivated a shop of fabulous antiquities, focusing on books but exploring the world of vinyl records, vintage toys, art and signage, antiquated-yet-useful office supplies, and more in his cozy little shop on Hamilton Street. To browse for books is one endeavor, but to explore his world of beautifully preserved nostalgia is another. To paraphrase what he said during my visit, these items might seem unimportant to their former owners, but they’re small bookmarks in our collective personal histories, and to someone, somewhere, they’ll be something special again.
But the books alone are worth the visit. Many a used bookshop have a selection of pristine classics and a wider array of paperbacks that have seen better days, some tattered, some still holding on. Urban Aftermath has a selection of used books that hardly seem so. The hardcover editions of classics by Steinbeck, Hemingway, Poe, Dickens, Doyle, Waugh, Asimov, Austen, and others are in pristine shape, and I myself bought a Steinbeck hardcover Viking Press edition of Winter of Our Discontent from the 60s in spectacular shape for $5. The prices are more than fair. I’d be hard pressed to leave this shop emptyhanded during future visits.
But maybe you’re looking for a bookstore that offers more than just a great page turner? Maybe a shop that has an irresistible selection of children’s books and as many gifts, toys, puzzles, and kits for kids as there are parking spots at Crossgates Mall? Well you won’t have to go anywhere near a shopping center, just down Delaware Avenue to Delmar where I Love Books has the best selection of gifts for kids and book lovers that you’ll find in the area. I swear by this store.
The front half of the shop is filled with books for adults (new fiction, history, memoir, the usual suspects) plus gifts for bookworms, puzzles, cards, and the like. Good stuff, all of it, but the back is what makes the shop unique. There’s a very large children’s section in the rear with everything from picture books for toddlers and beginners to YA and Harry Potter. They have a ton of fun gifts, games, puzzles, toys, and kits for curious children of all ages too, taking up a huge portion of the shop. There’s a ton to sort through as far as that goes, and I’d absolutely recommend this shop if you’re looking for unique gifts.
But maybe you’re not looking for gifts or vintage books or even a new bestseller, and you just want to fill your suitcase with mass market paperbacks for the beach, that plane trip, or quiet nights at home? Tattered Pages down toward Glenmont not only has a ton of affordable paperbacks but they have a book trading system that will allow you to return finished bestsellers in good shape for great finds right off their shelves. I went last before the pandemic and loaded up on some good mysteries, a Stephen King I didn’t own, and I found some kids books for my niece and nephew. Some of the books are well read, but all are in good enough shape to be read a few more times, so it’s worth a stop if you’re looking for an affordable read for the next vacation.
Albany might not have as many bookstores as other similarly sized cities like Portland, Maine, or Boulder, Colorado, but these five stores in our county do just fine providing all we’d need for a quick local literary fix, especially when one considers just how many shops there are in nearby Troy, Saratoga, Schenectady, and throughout the Hudson Valley region. And if you’re looking for something beyond all that, feel free to check out The Bookshop Hunter blog for reviews of a variety of shops in the area. And be sure to let me know which ones I’ve missed!