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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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