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If A Town Has a Great Bookstore – It’s Probably a Wonderful Place to Retire

Category: Best Retirement Towns and States

June 22, 2016 — Most everybody has a drop dead requirement for their best place to retire. For book lovers, that can mean living in a town where there is an interesting bookstore. Sure you can buy books online at Amazon, but for many there is no substitute for being able to settle down in a comfy store where the staff knows their books, and the selections carefully vetted. In this article Lucy Burdette and her best-selling writer friends at review their favorite bookstore towns. As writers touring the country to give book talks and signings, they know book shops!

As we hoped, most of these towns are great places to retire – and not just because of their wonderful bookstores. The kind of town that cultivates and supports a good book shop is a place that has many other things going on too – good restaurants, shops, cultural events, interesting people – they all go hand in hand! See much more at Choosing A Town Because of Its Bookstore!), including more about each of these authors.

Great bookstore towns that make for a wonderful retirement
The best part about reading about the authors’ favorite bookstores is that they give you all kinds of insights into what these towns are like in other areas.
Here they go:

I’d retire to Corte Madera, California, a quiet residential neighborhood, a ferry ride from San Francisco and home to the world class Book Passage bookstore. Go there and you’re likely to find Cara Black, Rhys Bowen, and and David Korbett schmoozing.

Book Passage

They have a fabulous annual Mystery Writers Conference. Owners Elaine and Bill Petrocelli and their daughter Kathryn Petrocelli make those of us who write and read crime fiction feel right at home (thanks to Hallie Ephron).

I’ve only been once to Prairie Lights bookstore in Iowa City, Iowa, but I loved this store! It has a great history, a great staff, and is the kind of general bookstore I could spend hours in every day. And it has a coffee shop, for writing in. Iowa City came as a complete surprise to me. It’s a university town with a tree-lined pedestrianized center and beautiful neighborhoods filled with the Arts and Crafts houses I adore (courtesy of Deborah Crombie).

My winters are now spent near the Poisoned Pen in Scottsdale, AZ. They are strictly mystery, but again with all the big name speakers and an event every night. Barbara Peters, the owner, is a petite dynamo who interviews her guests rather than let them drone on. The result is always a lively discussion. They have a giant mailing list to send books all over the world. What’s more Scottsdale in the winter is just about perfect with loads of cultural and outdoor activities (thank for this, Rhys Bowen!).

Newton, Mass is a diverse and cozy but cosmopolitan suburb comprised of eight separate villages, each with a square and lots to explore. Two fantastic independent bookstores (on opposite sides of the city) can provide every book you could imagine. And each has a brilliant and knowledgeable staff. Newtonville Books is a warmly inviting nook of a shop, with one room devoted to the cream of the crop of new release-especially literary fiction) and old favorites and another whole room devoted to kids. New England Mobile Book Fair is huge–almost a warehouse. Here, you could get happily lost in a world of the very latest bestsellers as well as all those books you meant to buy but didn’t. Concord Bookshop, in nearby historic Concord, is where you can walk the same streets as Emerson, Thoreau, Alcott and Hawthorne. (Patricia Cornwell lives there, too.) Another treasure! (courtesy of Hank Phillippi Ryan).

Not only is Madison, CT chockablock with New England coastal charm, it’s home to one of the best bookstores in the country: RJ Julia Booksellers Located on the adorable main street, RJ’s brings in a steady stream of bestselling authors from Anna Quinlan to Jane Hamilton to Linda Fairstein (this recommendation and the one from Key West thanks to Lucy Burdette).

Funky Key West is happy to be back to being a 2-bookstore town. The Key West Island Bookstore, just steps off Duval Street, feels like moving back in time. The shelves are loaded with books by local writers, books about Key West, bestsellers, and a wonderfully interesting array of used books. Books and Books opened a Southernmost outpost last year, shepherded by Judy Blume and filled with new fiction and nonfiction and lots of art books and supplies. (It’s attached to The studios of Key West, where there are classes and cultural events).

In coastal Maine I can visit Longfellow Books, Letterpress Books and Sherman’s Bookstore in Portland, Nonesuch in Biddeford, and South Portland and the Book Burrow in Kennebunk. If I want to take a pleasant drive for an hour or so I can reach the wonderful RiverRun Bookstore in Portsmouth, NH, the delightful White Birch Books in North Conway, NH, and the heavy-hitting Maine Coast Books in Damariscotta. All these stores are near wonderful restaurants. If I could stay in New England, I’d relocate to South Hadley, Mass, where the Odyssey Bookshop sits practically across the commons from Mount Holyoke. I love that area of the Bay State – rural, with gem-like small towns that are home to some of the country’s most distinguished small colleges. The Odyssey itself is one of those everything bookstores; you can get obscure poetry, the latest big thriller, and Orange Award nominees straight from Great Britain. The staff is cheerful and knowledgeable, and there are lots of nooks and crannies and chairs. (suggestions from Julia Spencer-Fleming).

If my husband and I were retiring somewhere warm, I’d head for San Diego and Mysterious Galaxy Bookstore. I love mystery, thrillers, science fiction and fantasy, and Mysterious Galaxy is THE specialty store. It hits all my buttons, with a fantastically knowledgeable staff who make eye-opening recommendations (thank you Susan Elia MacNeil for this tip!).

But Wait, There’s More!
The JungleRedWriters article not only had some fantastic suggestions, many of new to us, but it also sparked lots and lots of suggestions from the readers of their Blog. Here are some of those for your reading pleasure.

– McIntyre’s in Fearrington Village NC, which would be a wonderful place to retire (Lucy).

– In Cincinnati we have Joseph Beth–two locations, a large one with the wonderful Bronte cafe in the center of a bustling shopping area in town, and a slightly smaller one (with a coffeeshop-level cafe, without wine) in northern Kentucky. But best of all, we have two children’s bookstores, one on either side of the river: Blue Manatee, in Cincinnati, with a coffeeshop, and a wonderful author wall. And Blue Marble, in Ft. Thomas, Kentucky, where an upstairs room is decorated to the smallest detail like the room in the children’s classic, GOOD NIGHT, MOON. (Thanks Karen in Ohio!)

– I’m choosing Topsail Island, NC and hanging out at Quarter Moon Books on a daily basis. But, while I’m here in Boone, I’m tickled pink to have Malaprop’s in Asheville not too far away (Kaye Barley).

– We’re lucky in my neck of the woods (northeastern Massachusetts) to have Jabberwocky Bookstore. Welcoming, well-stocked, and with a parade of well-known authors (Edith Maxwell).

– Those of us in Portland, OR have the amazing Powell’s books to draw on — the main store covers a whole city block jam packed with old and new, hardback and paperback, all grouped together. They mystery section alone is bigger than many specialist stores. Author events all the time (PlumGaga).

– Topping the list near Pittsburgh is the fabulous Mystery Lovers Bookshop in Oakmont, PA. The owners, Natalie and Trevor, are really delightful people and I hope they own the store for a good long time. They kept all the staff when they purchased, so you’ll always get a good recommendation. While they specialize in mystery, they’ll order anything. (Mary Sutton).

– How could I forget the Tattered Cover in Denver? Both locations! Seriously, I’d plan a vacation all around visiting tht bookstore — so amazing (Susan Elia MacNeal).

– started in Tucson, and has locations in Flagstaff, Mesa & Phoenix. This is a great used & new bookstore – they have a coffee shop, readings & musical events, exchange program where you bring in all your unwanted books and get store credit or cash. (Pauline Dudley).

– a few other terrific midwestern bookstores: The Velveteen Rabbit in Fort Atkinson, WI, which partners with the delightful Dwight Foster Library for the best events. The town is midwestern-ideal as well, wide shady streets with pristine Italianate and Gothic Revival houses. Then there’s the Raven in Lawrence, Kansas – well worth the trip – and the beautiful Prairie Lights in Iowa City, which has an amazing staff and a first rate series of events. Finally, I spent a wonderful afternoon at The Bookworm in Omaha (which has a surprising number of good restaurants that aren’t steakhouses) which has been in business for thirty years now. They’re a general interest store but very strong in mysteries (Julia).

– One bookstore that I have been wanting to visit is Parnassus Books in Nashville. Author Ann Patchett is co-owner with Karen Hayes of this bookstore, which she opened partly in response to the closing of too many independent bookstores around her. Parnassus is now a thriving bookstore and has great events (Kathy Reel).

– The Book Loft in Solvang Ca is a “must visit”. Great selection of Scandinavian literature, adults and children, and well selected and diversified non-fiction, fiction, and poetry, as well as a great selection of puzzles! Nice coffee house attached. (Helen)

– I live in southeast New Mexico next to the Texas border. Post, Texas, a small town near Lubbock has a delightful bookstore called Ruby Lane Books and Gallery. The owner is also an author who has written a series of books about the history of Harvey Houses in several states. Ruby Lane is a Siamese kitty that lives in the store and is the official greeter (Mary Pat).

– As another Portlander (OR), I must stick up for three “curated” bookstores that also are very author-friendly. Broadway Books, Annie Bloom’s Books, and Another Read Through (a used bookstore). All hold many events that support local and not-so-local writers. Powell’s is for the browser; these three are for readers who want someone to have culled out much and left the rest. (Christopher Lord).

For further reading
Great Bookstore Make Great Retirement Towns
Best Retirement Towns for the Arts
Best Retirement Towns for Gardens

Comments? What towns with good bookstores have we overlooked. Please add your favorites in the Comments section below. And beside bookstores, what other kinds of stores and resources make for your kind of town?

Posted by Admin on June 21st, 2016


  1. As an extension of book stores, consider your local Library – I always check out the Library when considering where to live. I’m on the Board of Trustees for our Library, and I can tell you it’s really a community gathering place. There are author readings/lectures/meetings of clubs/children’s programs/magazines/computers/book clubs/newspapers, and so much more – all for free. Our library even processes passports (for a fee) and we’re considering adding a café. It has an extensive children’s play area with kid-sized and kid-appropriate educational toys and seating. Libraries are reinventing themselves and are a treasure. So much more than just a building housing books.

    by Jan Cullinane — June 22, 2016

  2. I notice that the date at the start of the article is June 22, 2017 … I trust that means that all of these incredible independent bookstores will still be in business well into the future — a year from now and beyond!

    Editor’s Note: A wonderful thought Sheila! We’d like to be able to predict the future but am afraid it is easier to put down the wrong year than to say what will happen then. Thanks for the catch!

    by Sheila — June 22, 2016

  3. Delray Beach has the Murder On The Beach bookstore featuring mystery, suspense and thriller books. It’s not actually located on the beach, but nearby in the artsy Pineapple Grove section of downtown. There are frequent author appearances and signings and the store has two free monthly book club meetings. The bookstore has the most signed mystery and suspense books by Florida authors. In addition, Delray Beach has two excellent public libraries: the downtown Delray Beach Public Library operated by the city and private contributions and the beautiful new Hagen Ranch Library in west Delray, operated by the large Palm Beach County library system. Plenty of adjacent free parking is available at both libraries.

    by Clyde R. — June 22, 2016

  4. One of the jewels of Winter Haven, Florida (midway between Orlando and Tampa) is its city operated public library. New, state of the art, in the restored and developing downtown main street area. This library is a magnet of opportunity for the 40,000 residents and the additional 40,000 people living outside the city in our service area. This library is city owned and tax supported but, and here is the best part, there is a public not for profit group called Friends of the Winter Haven Public Library that operates a used bookstore and always has 2500 books for sale on a wide range of topics most priced well under $5.00/many under $2.00. The proceeds from this used bookstore are available for special projects for the library. The library submits a wishlist and proposal for these funds. People from all walks of life come to this bookstore to purchase books of interest. Regular freestanding for profit bookstores are getting few and far between. We have one of the major chain bookstores in Lakeland about 20 minutes away. Other than that people buy books online. For our retiree population in Winter Haven the freestanding used bookstore at the library works just fine. Many retirees here live in condos and townhouses many with water views. Prices of these nice condos and townhouses are typically well under $100,000. People can live literally on peanuts here including getting great books of interest at the bookstore at the library. Check out towns with bookstores.

    by David M. Lane — June 22, 2016

  5. Gibson’s Books in Concord, NH is an upbeat store with knowledgable staff, numerous live author events and indoor/outdoor cafe.

    by Susan — June 22, 2016

  6. Curious Iguana in downtown Frederick, Maryland is absolutely worth a visit! From the friendly and helpful staff to the author talks, the store is a wonderful addition to this quaint and vibrant town.

    by Hollie — June 22, 2016

  7. Up here in Traverse City, MI, we have two wonderful independent bookstores in our downtown.
    Horizon Books is open everyday 7am to 11pm.
    Brilliant Books is just down the street, also open everyday.
    TC also has the National Writer Series which brings nationally known authors to TC for a lively community discussion, this year already we’ve had James Rollins, James Tobin, Davis Ebershoff and Laurie R. King. The organization is also sponsoring local creative writing courses for students in area high schools.

    And our public library is a local treasure, located on a lake!

    by Trout Chaser — June 22, 2016

  8. Couldn’t agree more with other comments, public libraries are the hidden gems in many cities. Your foundation for reading starts in just such an environment.

    by L. J. Swigart — June 22, 2016

  9. As a librarian, when going into a new town, I always head to the local library to see what it’s like. Even very small towns can have lovely libraries to support their communities. Libraries are retirees’ greatest resource because it is all free.

    I want to put in a plug for the Singing Wind Bookshop in Benson, AZ, an hour’s drive or so from Tucson:

    Just remember to shut the ranch gates after you drive through them on the dirt road. It’s a great adventure.

    by Elaine C. — June 22, 2016

  10. I agree with Jan per local library. Of all that I think represents America and democracy is our free library system. Love ours in South Walton County, FL…. Today I was amazed at all the paper books in shade covers of beach goers…. A lovely independent book store, back in the 70s, was in Garberville, CA. We thought we had hit the big time when southern Humboldt County got a hip book store with readings and guest writers. Had a name about a cat. Anyone remember that store?

    by Gregory — June 22, 2016

  11. Now this is a blog that is useful! When researching retirement destinations, I’ve eliminated locations if they don’t have a large Barnes and Noble within a reasonable driving distance. I’ve also been asking about the nearest public libraries when visit a developer’s new community, but haven’t gotten to the point of visiting them yet. I agree it’s a great idea! The independent bookstores also deserve full support, and a Half-Price Books (Pittsburgh) or other similar resale store are a bonus.

    When I moved to the Carolinas for work, I discovered my public library is big on “Christian Romances” (I didn’t even know there was such a category when I lived in PA), and very short on science fiction, biographies, film and other categores. Visiting a public library can give some insight into the community. For the record, I’m learning to enjoy Christian Romances LOL.

    by Kate — June 23, 2016

  12. I love a good bookstore and sincerely appreciate our public libraries. Our library has books, CDs, DVDs, lectures and groups, and they have a genealogist at one of the branches with access to various sites and documents. If there is a book you want but it’s not in their system or is at another library in the system, they can order it for you. You can also download a variety of media through their website.

    A good bookstore is wonderful for the area, but there is no guarantee it’ll be there in a few years. We’ve seen many great bookstores disappear in our area, so in choosing a retirement location it may be a factor but will not be at the top of the list.

    If you want to explore free downloads of books, movies and music along with courses, you should look at

    by Marcia — June 23, 2016

  13. I was so glad to see you mention Portland, Maine. We’re headed there to retire and along with the wonderful bookstores and libraries, they truly appreciate education! SE Tennessee – not so much.

    by HEF — July 6, 2016

  14. Kate/Marcia – I too am a great lover of books. When we were looking for a retirement location in SW Florida, aside from checking out the communities on line, I always checked the mileage to the nearest Barnes & Noble. We wound up moving to Fort Myers, FL 4 years ago and I immediately joined the public library system here in Lee County. The library branch I use is absolutely wonderful. If they don’t have a book or DVD I want, they order it. With your account you can reserve up to 20 upcoming new releases. Lee County has many branches and they are spread out enough it would be hard to be too far away from one. Also, they carry ALL kinds of books. I gut a chuckle out of the Christian Romance” comment. We have those too but also every other kind of book. I will admit to not going to Barnes & Noble as much these days due to our library. Special authors I like to re-read I still order through B & N.

    by Toni — July 7, 2016

  15. HEF – The Portland Press Herald just had an article about another independent book store opening at the base of Munjoy Hill in Portland. That will make three independent bookstores within walking distances of each other in Portland. And there’s the Book’s A Million out by the Maine Mall in South Portland.

    I lived in south west Tennessee for 12 years and am happy to be back in Maine.

    by Norma P — July 8, 2016

  16. Norma P,

    Can you tell us what you did not like about Tennessee? Also what you do like in Maine? I’ve always wanted to go to Maine for a vacation but the lure of warmer climates turned me around.

    What are taxes like in Maine?

    by Ron — July 10, 2016

  17. Does anyone know of an area the is Big on Quilting? My wife loves to quilt and would be interested in moving to an area that has a vibrant quilting society .

    by Ron — July 10, 2016

  18. Ron,
    There is an organization called MeetUp ( that facilitates meeting new people and has groups for just about everything (some of them do charge to join).

    Here is a link to the largest groups involving quilters:
    You can see where they are located. The beauty of is that your wife could also start her own “MeetUp” for quilters if one doesn’t exist in an area you’re considering for relocation. Just a different way to approach it.

    I’m not affiliated with MeetUp in any way – just a suggestion.


    by Jan Cullinane — July 11, 2016

  19. Ron …

    The Fargo, North Dakota – Moorhead, Minnesota, (FM) area has a strong tradition in quilting and Hardanger embroidery (reflecting the area’s strong Norwegian influence). The area has experienced strong economic growth and with three major colleges it has extensive cultural offerings. The climate is a bit harsh in the winter but even that has moderated with global warming. It may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but it has what your wife is interested in.

    by Dave Moewes — July 11, 2016

  20. Thank you for your Quilting suggestions

    by Ron — July 12, 2016

  21. I don’t know if it’s just me or not but regarding quilting as a factor on where to retire? Really?

    i know folks will retire for winter sports, water sports, hunting, fishing, etc. Quilting? I guess whatever floats your boat.

    by Skip P — July 13, 2016


    by Liz — July 13, 2016

  23. Oh – it left off my website address,

    by Liz — July 13, 2016

  24. Skip, I was sad to see your comment – so not necessary. Some readers don’t care about golf, yet many base retirement considerations around golf courses and I have read many blogs about it. To each their own. Golf, hiking, cultural events, beaches, libraries, college courses, weather and even ‘floating their boat” – all of us out here have different interests we want to enjoy in our retirement years. I even look at areas close to Nascar tracks, as I like to occasionally see a race live. Don’t put us down; it brings nothing to this blog. Celebrate our diversity in interests; it’s what make us interesting seniors.

    by BeckyN — July 14, 2016

  25. Ron: I lived in southwest Tennessee, the Memphis area. Memphis is a very racially divided area. I did not like the politics, I was appalled about “what church do you go to?” (we don’t bring up religion in New England), I did not like the weather (too hot and muggy for too long). The lakes are not lakes – they are dammed up rivers and the water is muddy. I like to look down and see my feet when I go in the water.

    I did, however, like Tennessee in general. My husband and I visited the Nashville area quite a bit. We fell in love with Chattanooga, which is in eastern Tennessee. I like eastern Tennessee because it reminds me of Maine. There are mountains. It’s very beautiful.

    Maine is home. I am always going to like Maine. I have a sense of community here. There is so much to do here. Mountains to climb; rivers, ponds and ocean to fish; skiing, skating and snowmobiling in the winter (winter just lasts TOO long); golf for a few months; not a lot of people here – it’s very peaceful. We have the ocean, which I missed terribly when I lived in Tennessee. Yes, taxes are high in Maine. With a low population, the tax burden is higher on individuals. You notice it more, that’s for sure.

    I will summer in Maine and live in the other eight months.

    by Norma P — July 14, 2016

  26. Norma – we were looking at Chattanooga because we vacationed there and loved it. Also we love the homes there, but I’ve heard it has a high crime rate. Any thoughts on Tennessee and Chattanooga crime? Thanks.

    by Liz — July 14, 2016

  27. Liz, crime is a problem in Tennessee. You have more citizens, you have more crime. Memphis was the worst. We knew where we should not go in Memphis, but crime was spreading out to the suburbs. Chattanooga and Nashville both have their share of crime, too. I am jaded after having lived in Memphis. I think I could handle Chattanooga, but somebody who has not had their eyes opened to it might feel uncomfortable.

    by Norma P — July 15, 2016

  28. Thank you for your feedback, Norma. I LOVE LOVE LOVE the homes in Chattanooga and some of the neighborhoods. However, I do live in Apple Valley, Virginia now so crime is a huge concern for me. I’ll still be looking for an area with a river walk or walkable city.

    by Liz — July 16, 2016

  29. Official crime rates for cities and other areas may sometimes be high, but not necessarily accurate for all parts of the city or surrounding areas. For example, Memphis may have a high crime rate, but it likely varies significantly throughout the city and metro area. I’ve found local police and law enforcement to sometimes be helpful if you simply ask them about the crime situation in an area you might be interested in. Their initial reaction may tell you a lot. When we moved to Connecticut ten years ago, we looked at a town with a low crime rate. I did have a brief conversation with a police officer there who said they very seldom got crime calls from the part of town where we were looking. But there were some trouble spots elsewhere, he noted.

    by Clyde R. — July 17, 2016

  30. The Travel section of this week’s NY Times is completely dedicated to great Bookstores. We at Topretirements are pleased to see many of their U.S. bookstores discussed in our article as well. Plus they have some very interesting stores in other locales as well. Check it out, a great read. Fantastic author Ann Patchett, co-owner or Parnassus books in Nashville, wrote the main story – “When a Bookshop is a Must

    by Admin — December 12, 2016

  31. We simply have to mention this wonderful bookstore in Punta Gorda, Florida – the Copperfish. The entire staff, starting with Serena, Cathy, and Jean, is enthusiastic and knowledgeable. The store has an interesting inventory, but the best part are the continuous programs from authors and other events that liven the scene -sometimes with over 200 attendees. They get great attendance so it is a nice addition to the town. Lucy Burdette just gave a great talk about her Key West Food Critic mysteries with a lively crowd.

    by Editor — April 24, 2019

  32. If you want a great bookstore with a cheap cost of living in a large city then here is your winner, Joseph-Beth Booksellers in Cincinnati, Cleveland, Louisville, Lexington and Northern KY across the river from Cincinnati:

    by danno — April 28, 2019

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