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If your idea of a good Colorado weekend is hiking stacks of books instead of, say, red rock, we got you. But instead of pulling up to a publicly owned monstrosity (or swiping through that app), consider paying a visit to one of the Denver metro area’s top indie shops, where mazes of lit marinating in the sweet smell of paper usher you in and invite you to stay a while.
Below, our eight most beloved independent bookshops on the Front Range, from antiquarian sellers to paperback-only purveyors.
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Best for: Those who relish the hunt
Address: 3434 W 32nd Ave.
The best used bookstores are the ones that feel like mildly organized chaos inside, and this Highlands gem is just that. Follow the taped arrows on the floor through this labyrinthine palace of prose: The main room is devoted to well-loved secondhand copies, and a separate room houses brand-new releases. The gently used stock is (loosely) sorted by the author’s last name, but Post-it notes scrawled in Sharpie may send you on a search for exceptions. “Check Black Authors section for Yaa Gyasi,” one reads. “Look up for Cormac McCarthy shelf,” another instructs. The prowl is well worth the payoff though because you’ll find treasures like Emily Henry’s Happy Place for a fraction of the price you’d pay at a B&N.
Our best tip: Don’t miss the carts sitting outside the front door. They’re full of books for just $2.50 (or five for $10).
Best for: Wannabe book collectors
Address: 1416 S. Broadway
Printed Page is for the serious collectors and casual readers alike. Whether you’re looking for a signed first edition of Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five or the latest fantasy taking BookTok by storm, it’s likely in-stock at this stately blue-and-white Victorian home on South Broadway. Co-owners Dan Danbom and John Frantzen both graduated from the Colorado Antiquarian Book School (yes, that’s a thing, and yes, we’re considering alternate careers now, too), meaning they never tire of talking rare reads, fine bindings, and book preservation. Can’t find an elusive book you’ve been looking for? Enlist the help of Danbom—the search is half the fun for him.
Our best tip: If you’re a book-collecting beginner, sign up for the Printed Page’s free College of Biblio Knowledge. These classes will teach you how to spot a first edition, budget your collecting quest, and care for your most hallowed hardcovers.
Best for: Those who love recommendations
Address: 300 E. Colfax Ave.
This is truly a choose-your-own-adventure indie spot. Type-A readers can plan ahead by searching for exact books by title or author on the website, a tech treat you don’t always find at the mom-and-pop bookshops. Type-B readers, on the other hand, can thumb through pages at their leisure, letting the books beckon them where they may. If the vast selection isn’t reason enough to support this small business, perhaps its determined spirit is. Capitol Books has been around for more than 40 years, and in 2021, after a truck drove right through the front of the store, its community of bibliophiles rallied to help it rebuild. Who doesn’t love a good underdog story?
Our best tip: If you can’t decide what to buy, let Capitol Hill pick for you. Order a mystery bundle, and the booksellers will ship you a selection of reads based on your chosen genre and specifications. Don’t be afraid to leave extra notes—the book elves here love finding the perfect match.
Best for: The book lover on a budget
Address: 4061 E. Wesley Ave.
Sure, hardcovers have their place, but this spot’s for the readers who relish a good paperback. Since 1977, the Book Rack has been wheeling and dealing softcovers, amassing an impressive collection of children’s and sci-fi stories over the years. The best part? It’s nearly impossible to break the bank here—the owner offers bargain bundles of two to five titles grouped by genre starting as low as $7. Another good way to save some coin: Each time you pay this indie emporium a visit, bring along a few books you’re willing to part with. They offer store credit in exchange for paperback selects in good condition.
Our best tip: Although it primarily deals in paperbacks, the Book Rack is currently accepting hardcover children’s and young adult books for store credit. Time to sacrifice Junior’s oldies for your next long read.
Best for: Readers who love endless options
Address: Multiple locations
This is likely the most buzzed-about bookstore on the list, and for good reason. Tattered Cover has been home base for Denver book lovers since the first location in Cherry Creek North opened its doors in 1971. Now with eight storefronts sprinkled around the Front Range, this beloved local chain has a cult following thanks to its impressive inventory of new, used, and bargain books; more than 500 author and community events; and best-of-the-best booksellers. Each outpost from Westminster to Littleton offers an abundance of titles and a distinct ambience, so make it a mission to visit each one to find your vibe. Into a sleek, modern feel? Hit up the McGregor Square store. Want to peruse the shelves in a more storied space? Visit the Colfax location inside a renovated old theater.
Our best tip: No need to go in with a TBR list. Find your next best friend among the staff recommendation shelves (of which there are many), where employed bibliophiles share their current faves.
Best for: Those looking for more than books
Address: 320–324 1/2 N. Tejon St., Colorado Springs
If you happen to need the latest Colson Whitehead novel, a stuffed animal for your niece, a slice of buffalo chicken pizza, or a tall glass of vino, you’ve come to the right place. This Springs staple can’t decide if it’s a bookstore, gift shop, pizzeria, or wine bar—and who are we to complain about the array of vices?
The bookstore branch of this multifaceted business is the oldest in Poor Richard’s (and its biggest draw). Although it might sound like an unruly abundance of offerings, each genre is clearly labeled and immaculately organized. You won’t be tripping over stray stacks or fishing fantasy out of the thriller section here. Browse new and used titles, grab a glass of chardonnay from Rico’s (the in-house bar), and try not to blow $100.
Our best tip: If you happen to pick up a little something for someone special, wrap it right in Poor Richard’s at the free, self-serve gift-wrapping station.
Best for: Readers who want to meet their idols IRL
Address: 1107 Pearl St., Boulder
This behemoth of a bookstore is three stories tall. That’s 20,000 square feet and more than 100,000 titles on-site. But despite its (enormous) size, Boulder Book Store somehow manages to maintain an enduringly cozy character, perhaps thanks to the feng shui consultant founder David Bolduc hired when he remodeled the current building. Dangling light fixtures and gold lamps giving off a soft flow are reminiscent of the New York Public Library’s Rose Main Reading Room. Other shoppers say the store has the same aesthetic as the Shop Around the Corner in You’ve Got Mail, but we’ll let you be the judge of that—swing by in September, and help this longstanding literary legend celebrate 50 years in the biz.
Our best tip: Boulder Book Store brings in some of the industry’s heaviest hitters. Past author appearances have included Stephen King, Deepak Chopra, Joyce Carol Oates, and R.L. Stine. Check the calendar so you don’t miss out.
Best for: The bibliophile looking for community
Address: 232 Walnut St., Fort Collins
The red-brick building that houses this charming bookshop holds as many stories as the shelves. As the name suggests, it sits in the old Fort Collins firehouse, which was built in 1881 and home to the Fort Collins Fire Department until 1976, when it was converted into retail space. This small-but-mighty merchant took over the fire station in 2009 and transformed it into a reader’s respite with inventory ranging from sci-fi and gardening to a section devoted entirely to local Colorado authors. If you’re a horror lit lover, join the the F*@#’d Up Book Club, a meeting of dark fiction minds. Or, if LGBTQ+ novels are more your speed, sign up for the Queer and Loathing Book Club.
Our best tip: Old Firehouse Books is conveniently attached to Happy Lucky’s Teahouse. Grab a cup of earl grey before you get lost in the lit.