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Best independent, non-used bookstores in town

By Apartment613 on May 9, 2011

Post by Megan Taylor

Since we here Apartment613 (and our vocal readership!) have already paid tribute to Ottawa’s best used bookstores, perhaps it’s time to cast an eye at their competition and acknowledge the best not-used-but-still-independent bookstores in the capital. If you don’t want to give your money to a megachain like Chapters, but still crave the smooth matte feel of a pristine trade paperback, the satisfaction of cracking open an unbroken hardcover spine, or even just a heady whiff of that new book smell, check out these alternatives:

Collected Works (1242 Wellington St. West, near Holland Avenue).

Brilliantly combining two staples in every reader, writer, and student’s life – words and caffeine – West Wellington Village’s Collected Works is both bookstore and coffee shop. It serves tasty lattes and delicious reading material in the same cheery, comfortable location. Its stock emphasizes fiction and creative writing (novels, poetry, children’s books) which you can browse and purchase both in-store and online. And it also recently doubled in space. But perhaps its most appealing aspect is the impressive variety of community events it offers: from art shows to author appearances to open mics to book club meetings, Collected Works hosts around a dozen different events a month.

Nicholas Hoare (419 Sussex Drive, near St. Patrick Street)

Across the street from the National Art Gallery, Nicholas Hoare’s Ottawa location (there are stores in Montreal and Toronto as well) is spacious and beautiful. The gleaming wooden shelves and colourful table arrangements artistically showcase an eclectic but nevertheless quite varied selection. Apparently reflecting the store owner’s personal tastes, there’s an overall emphasis on “mostly British books,” as the website tells us. The site maintains the charm of the actual store. While online ordering is not a possibility (Nicholas Hoare encourages a personal experience), there you can find not only useful inventory catalogues and event listings but also video book reviews by Hoare himself, who dons a bow tie and sumptuous suit jacket to deliver snappy two and a half minute book promos.

Perfect Books (258A Elgin St., near Somerset Street West)

Small and unpretentious, Centretown’s Perfect Books focuses on fiction but offers a smattering of other subjects including history, biography, and politics. The store’s motto is “Proudly Canadian, Fiercely Independent,” and it lives up to this bold statement by soliciting self-published works by local authors. I always enjoy the staff reading recommendations, which seem to be updated every time I go in. Taped to the shelves on endearingly hand-written cue cards, they’re complete with exclamation points and underlining to convey the recommender’s unbounded enthusiasm for the work in question.

Books on Beechwood (35 Beechwood Ave., near McKay Street)

Like Perfect Books and Collected Works, New Edinburgh’s Books on Beechwood is also a haven for local authors and those interested in the Ottawa literary scene. Offering an impressive variety of both fiction and non-fiction, the store helps to spotlight Ottawa-based authors by showcasing them in regular book signing events. The store also runs a monthly book club and hosts a weekly story hour for neighbourhood children. I find the staff here both helpful and kind. Weeks after I had purchased – and of course lost the receipt for – a volume of Ngaio Marsh mysteries, I discovered it contained a major printer’s error. When I brought this to the store clerk’s attention, I was promptly and without question offered a replacement copy!

Mother Tongue Books (1067 Bank St., near Sunnyside Avenue)

While it’s not one of my most frequented stores because of its very small size – and hence quite limited selection – Mother Tongue definitely deserves a shout-out here. The staff are knowledgeable and happy to order anything you want that they don’t have in stock. What’s more, Mother Tongue primarily specializes in material that doesn’t often appear in the more mainstream independent bookstores mentioned above – so if you’re looking for books in feminist theory, First Nations writing, or lesbian and gay literature, this is the store for you.

Octopus Books (113 Third Ave., near Bank Street)

So, Octopus Books doesn’t officially make this top five list – but only because I haven’t been there in years. From what I can recall, however, (and from what the internet tells me), it’s certainly one of Ottawa’s more unusual independent bookstores, focusing primarily on politics. Octopus Books is described on its website as  “a forum for radical and revolutionary voices, local authors, small presses, and writers from a variety of countries and cultures.” They’ve also been a sponsor of Apt613’s annual fall fiction contest.

Want to share your more up-to-date impressions of Octopus Books? Any other independent gems out there missing from this list? Let us know in the comments!

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  • Book Lover

    You are missing an important part of Ottawa culture on this list. Kaleidoscope Kids’ Books is the ONLY children’s bookstore in Ottawa. It’s a little gem found at 1018 Bank St in the Glebe. If you haven’t been there, go!

  • Sheldon

    Don’t forget La Librairie du Soleil, 33 George Street, in the Byward Market behind the Chapters. It’s a great little bookstore with all sorts of books in French.

  • This is so awesome to see. It’s so easy to just hit ‘send’ on an Amazon order but what a great reminder to support local!

  • susan

    Hey, I am going to write an article about all the best poutine in the city, but I am only going to get it from one place, and then I will review all the others based on their website. Awesome, really reliable. AND I believe Nicholas Hoare is a chain!

  • michael

    you have completely forgotten the best part of Nicholas Hoare… there’s a cat that roams around the store! there are even holes cut into the walls so the cat can go from room to room!

  • Nadia

    Nicholas Hoare is a chain, not an independent bookstore. I think Octopus Books is hands down the best independent bookstore. In addition to political books, they also have an excellent Canadian fiction section, the best cookbooks and a whole wall of awesome kids books. It’s small, but it’s packed full of good books. Aaand, what other bookstore puts on so many free events, donates to good causes,and sponsors you! It’s worth a trip back.

  • Mother Tongue Books is also an excellent source of local Hot Sauce. Why? I don’t know, but if you are looking for some outside of a craft fair, they carry an excellent selection.

  • Tamera

    Octopus Books is my favourite shop in Ottawa, hands down. It has a fantastic collection of political, feminist, environmental, cultural and social justice work that simply are not found in other places.

    Also, I’d like to recommend After Stonewall on Bank. It’s a bookstore specialising in queer literature and there’s no better place in the city to seek out books on LGBT issues. They also sell tickets to many different community events and the staff is amazingly friendly!

  • Donna

    I also think Octopus deserves a firm spot in your top 5. Their cookbook section does rock, particularly if you’re a sustainable/vegetarian eater. I always find something interesting there to read, for me or for my kids. They do so many good things in the community….attended an event last year with Doug Saunders, hosted by Evan Solomon, that was FREE (and would have cost me money in other cities). Last year they raised thousands of dollars to support organizations in Liberia. Every year they hold an event in June to celebrate the owner’s daughter’s bday that involves a bookdrive and fundraiser that over the years, I’m sure, has sent 100s of books to a children’s library in Africa. I could go on! I think that you should go to Octopus books and support them. Thanks for writing about independent bookstores in Ottawa though!

  • Corina

    Octopus Books. Truly independent and non-profit (lets change that though, by frequenting it more often!. The owner deserves to earn a decent living for all her hard work running the best bookstore in town. The team is rad, the books are stellar, including a terrific kids section. And a great selection of cards, magazines and related gifts. I could spend hours there if only i had a few to kill.

    And props to Kaleidescope as well. Thanks to the other poster for reminding us about them. Another incredible venture that we should reward with our business!

  • Hi,

    I’ve just launched a new website called . It currently lists all the used bookstores in North America, and we’re in the process of adding independents. Please feel free to drop by, review a store, and/or add one at

  • Momo Lambkin

    Perfect Books has a section devoted to Edward Gorey. Their Gorey inventory is not static either. Something worth mentioning.

  • Diane

    Collected Works has definitely got my vote! As an avid reader who loves to get out and actually have a conversation with people, it’s the perfect spot in the ‘hood!

  • Andrew

    Octopus Books is the most outstanding bookstore in the city. Not only is the owner Lisa dedicated to her clientele, but she is a first rate employer, and she organises dozens of events in the community every year. She also has great sales and organises promotions that help Project Tembo.

  • Wharton

    Funny (in a tragic sort of way) that noöne seems to have heard of Room 3o2 Books, so far as I know the only store in town that focusses specifically on Canadian literature & specializes in the so-called “avant-garde”, quite possibly carrying the richest selection in the country. I understand that they do not condone consignment & pay outright for stock, supporting primarily independent productions by buying direct from writers & publishers. They also issue knowledgeable catalogues & produce occasional events, having done so since setting up shop here in 1996. Is it best kept secret or something?

  • Smiling Sister

    You forgot Singing Pebbles located on Main Street. This is my absolute favorite bookstore. Nestled in between the Green Door and The Wheatberry. The staff are so well read and very helpful.

  • J. Brown

    I’d like to offer that “Independant” status is an Arts & Society category of Culture. It is not a designation based upon having a singular outlet — example: McNalley Robinson Booksellers (which was founded in Saskatoon, where it continues to operate popularly from).

    Think of Independant chains using the following comparison as a guide: an Independant recording musician operates under self-governance of values and community & political involvements, and either self-records or goes to an Independant studio. The Indie studio could have sister-locations in other cities or regions, but they all operate under Independant cultural normals, which are (and this is the big point — read as if underlined) not driven by Commercial culture, values or politics. To define that better: they support local and progressive initiatives and people, and may lend or donate space, items, money, time or all of the above.

    Don’t reject a store based upon “size-ism” or chain-affiliation. Independant chains are founded upon the core, and their staff are seen and treated as real people.

  • Lesli Cassarino

    Great information here it’s solved the problem with a few key things i wanted.

  • bilbo

    Sadly, Collected Works is no longer operating.

  • bilbo

    Depending on your definition, Nicholas Hoare could have been considered independent – I think that there were 3 stores in all: in Ottawa, Montreal and Toronto, now all are gone.

    On the other hand, I think that Librairie Du Soleil has over 70 stores and so is probably not independent. On the other hand, “Le coin de livre” on Cyrville is local and I like it better.