Skip To Content

Best of: Independent bookstores

By Amanda Armstrong on February 20, 2014


There is a certain something about independent bookstores. A sense of community and bringing people together – connecting over a love of books (which eventually ends up being about so much more) – that you just won’t find at Chapters. Independent bookstores are the best because the people who work there are REALLY passionate about books and are often incredibly knowledgeable. Unfortunately, many independent bookstores are closing due to financial hardship. It is important that we continue to frequent those that do exist and to make sure that they stay open. As a lover of books, I am always looking for new bookstores to escape to. So, for my fellow bibliophiles, here is a list of some of the most charming independent bookstores in the city, both new and used.

Black Squirrel Books, 508 Bank Street

Black Squirrel Books, a used book store in Centretown owned by Vaughn MacDonald, opened in 2011 and caters to readers of academic non-fiction. In addition to works of history, philosophy, physics, and the like, the store also carries a great selection of literature and graphic novels. A wonderful addition to the shop is a beautiful white cat named Snowbell, who makes her home there. There is a comfortable old couch to read on and that magical old book smell. The store is small and, at times, a bit chaotic but it is all a part of its charm. They buy, sell, and trade used books, as well as hosting events and shows featuring local artists.

Singing Pebble Books, 202-A Main Street

Owned by Mika Weaver, Singing Pebble Books is one of only a handful of new independent bookstores left in Ottawa. The store carries a wide variety of books on health, wellness, spirituality, psychology, sociology, and women’s issues, as well as a large selection of fiction. They also sell jewellery, cards, crystals and small gift items. The store is staffed by some very friendly folk, and Mika’s dog Bohdi is often there to greet you when you visit. Another great thing about Singing Pebble is their appreciation plan, which allows you to earn dollars towards free books. Singing Pebble Books also gives back on a larger scale by donating to charity; they have helped to build a school in Meyenne, Cameroon and also sponsor two children.

Octopus Books, 116 Third Avenue

Photo from Octopus Books´ Facebook page.

Photo from Octopus Books´ Facebook page.


Tucked off of Bank Street in the Glebe is a little cottage of a bookstore, Octopus Books. I first happened upon Octopus books as a student, sent to buy a textbook for a university course. Octopus Books distributes textbooks and coursepacks for many university courses, but it also stocks so much more. Octopus has an extensive selection of political books, as well as books on class, race, and globalization. It is one of few bookstores where the philosophy section occupies more than a few shelves and feminism has a section of its own. Octopus carries books that you are compelled to read but may never have heard of and would not have stumbled upon elsewhere. A second location, Under One Roof, is located at 251 Bank Street in Centretown.

Perfect Books, 258A Elgin Street

A tiny little bookstore on Elgin Street, Perfect Books carries a large selection of fiction, but does have a small selection of non-fiction. They also carry a lot of local authors’ books. The owners are great and the staff is very helpful; they are always eager to recommend books and you can tell that they are incredibly passionate about the written word. Perfect Books also hosts events and book signings.

The Book Den, 263 MacLaren

Hidden away on a side street in Centretown, this tiny used bookstore is packed full of treasures. Run by a sweet elderly couple, the store keeps incredibly irregular hours. It is pure luck if you find the store open (really, it says so on their sign) but, if luck is in your favour, you are bound to find plenty of worthwhile reads on their shelves.

Kaleidoscope Kids’ Books, 1018 Bank Street

Owned by Karin, Kim, and Kelly, Kaleidoscope Kids’ Books is celebrating its eighth anniversary this week. Kaleidoscope Kids’ Books provides an expansive selection of new children’s books for those aged 0-15. Instilling a love of books and reading in children is the women’s passion and those who work at the store take great care and pride in selecting the perfect book for a child.

Books on Beechwood, 35 Beechwood Avenue

Books on Beechwood nearly closed its doors in 2012, when the owner decided to either sell the store or close down, wanting to retire after a good long run. The shop was bought just in time for Christmas by a loyal customer, Brian Sullivan, and two of his colleagues. Wanting to keep the same feel, the new owners have continued a weekly storytime for children and the books they stock are determined by what the people in the area are reading. The staff are all experts in different areas and together they have some amazing recommendations, regardless of what you like to read.

All Books, 327 Rideau Street

Located beside the Bytowne Cinema on Rideau Street is All Books, a used bookstore. The owner of the store is a very clever and quirky man who usually knows exactly where to find the book you are looking for, which is helpful given that there are stacks and stacks of books everywhere. It is rare that you will leave All Books without the book you were looking for but, even if you do, you are bound to leave with another wonderful read.