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Major U. S. Bricks-and-Mortar Booksellers

A Overview of Important Bookstores

By

Barnes & Noble bookseller

Barnes & Noble bookstore

Justin Sullivan / Getty Images Entertainment
Bricks-and-mortar bookstores had been the main centers of commerce for the bookselling industry and book-buying public for centuries. In the early decades of the twenty-first century, while consumer dollars are shifting away from print books, bookstores remain hubs of for those who like the feel of holding a book in their hands and browsing the stacks to see before they buy. Therefore, bookstores as we have known them continue to retain a critical role in the book publishing industry. Following is a round-up of significant bricks-and-mortar stores in the United States—mostly present, one recent past.

Major Bricks-and-Mortar Chain Booksellers


The major bricks-and-mortar bookstore chains are especially important to publishers and authors for their potential ability to buy and sell large quantities of new books and to stock backlist sellers, as well as their ability to promote books to the book-buying public through chain-wide bookstore promotions.

  • Barnes & Noble
    The chain begun by Len Riggio when he was still a college bookstore manager is arguably the largest and most forward-thinking chain bookseller in the nation. Early in its history, Barnes & Noble differentiated itself with a number of bookselling innovations including television advertising, “value” pricing, publishing proprietary books, and deep discounting of bestsellers, and has remained on the forefront of bookselling in all its iterations, including online (bn.com) and e-books, with its Nook e-reader.

    The Barnes & Noble Bookseller chain operates approximately 700 bricks-and-mortar retail bookstores in regional shopping malls, major strip centers and freestanding locations in 50 states, and 636 college bookstores across the United States.

    Read more about the history of Barnes & Noble and Len Riggio.

  • Books-A-Million
    Books-A-Million (or BAM, as it is often referred to) is based in Birmingham, Alabama, and operates approximately 250 stores in 31 states and the District of Columbia. The chain was founded in 1917 as a street corner newsstand in Florence, Alabama. Since the closing of the Borders Group bookstore chain, it has been the second largest bricks-and-mortar book retailer in the United States.

  • Border’s Group
    The acknowledged originator of the book “superstore” concept and once the second-largest bookstore chain in the U.S., the Borders Group a publicly held bookstore chain that operated Borders superstores and Waldenbooks Specialty Retail segment stores, including Waldenbooks, Borders Express and Borders airport stores. The last Borders store closed in September of 2011.

    Read about the origins, the history and the demise of the ill-fated Borders Group.


  • Major Independent Bricks-and Mortar Booksellers
    Throughout the United States there are number of major independent booksellers, most with one or a few outlets, too few or too localized to be considered “chain bookstores.” These independents are influential in the publishing industry not only because of their ability to move quantities of books (relative to many other independent bookstores), but because of their great reputations in their respective communities, the loyalty of their customer base and the business savvy of their ownership, who have continued to be committed to bookselling through a tough and volatile business landscape.

    Some major independents in the United States include:

  • Book Soup in Los Angeles, CA
  • Elliott Bay Book Company in Seattle, WA
  • Joseph-Beth Booksellers, Lexington, KY, Clevlend OH and Cincinnati, OH
  • Northshire Bookstore in Manchester, VT
  • Powell’s Books in Portland, OR
  • R. J. Julia in Madison, CT
  • Shakespeare & Company in New York City
  • Tattered Cover Book Store in Denver, CO
  • Vroman’s Bookstore in Pasadena, CA


    The landscape for major U.S. booksellers includes not only bricks-and-mortar stores (both chains and independents), but also online booksellers, such as Amazon.com, BN.com, which sell both print books and e-books, as well as Google eBookstore and Apple’s iBookstore, which sell e-books, exclusively. Read about the rise of e-books here.
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