BookPeople is a literary playground. Who needs a slide when there’s a Happy Hour book club and a maze of quirkily decorated shelves, each laden with new worlds to discover?
You may not be familiar with the BookPeople name because of its status as an independent bookstore. But its success is immediately apparent by its three story building located right across from Whole Foods and Waterloo Records on 6th Street. In fact, BookPeople is the largest independent bookstore in the state of Texas and was voted Bookstore of the Year by Publisher’s Weekly back in 2005.
Independent it is, and proud to be local. In fact, local is a critical part of BookPeople’s identity. According to one employee named Will (“They call me Wilbur”), “Being independent, we get to find different ways to interact with the community.” The drive to create opportunities, he said, is how BookPeople has continued to grow in the face of an allegedly dwindling publishing industry. “And it’s a fun place to work,” he added.
Opened in 1970 as “Grok Books” (grok means to fully understand something—a delightful reference to Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert A. Heinlein), BookPeople has continued to grow over time as a beloved Austin classic.
Get Lost! (in a Bookstore)
For any interest under the sun, there’s likely a book to suit it in BookPeople. The sections are thematic, complete with an oven in the cooking section, a barber’s chair with a colorful giant sweater in the craft section, and records dangling from the ceiling of the music section.
To me, an important aspect of a bookstore is how easily you can get lost in it. BookPeople does not disappoint, with numerous nooks, corners and squishy seats available to help guests peruse their interests in quiet and comfortable study.
Possibly the best thing about this store is how much the employees seem to truly love it. The many, many book clubs (ranging from crime, to post-apocalyptal, fantasy, Latino/a, and pretty much anything else you can think of) are entirely engineered by employees. Employees must pitch ideas because the books selected are discounted.
If there’s enough interest, the employee who originally pitched the idea is placed in charge of managing the book club, blogging about it and everything else. Will himself is gunning for a New Age book club, but the idea hasn’t taken off yet.
For the Unsure, There’s More Than Books
Perhaps as evidence of a desire to appeal to a wide range of Austin community members, BookPeople offers more than just books. The store is rife with potential gifts, including candles, Buddhist statues, incense, decorative dishware, gag gifts, calendars and punny t-shirts. There is even an Austin-themed Monopoly game in the local section, entitled “Austinopoly.”
To the additional appeal of absolutely everyone, there is a charming in-house cafe called Coffee People, with treats and drinks alike. It is easy to turn a BookPeople visit into an hours-long event. Browse the shelves and take your recent purchase to read under the cafe’s neon blue coffee sign.
Who Said Reading Was Passive?
As you meander up the stairs, it’s impossible not to notice the wall in front of you filled with rows and rows of pictures, each with a notable figure at a BookPeople event. Think literary greats like Ray Bradbury, politicians like Bill Clinton and Madeleine Albright, and even local legend Kinky Friedman.
The most recent event to sell out is a Stephen King book signing on November 15th for his book Revival. The bookseller I spoke with said people waited in line for tickets for 24 hours, two months in advance.
With so many book clubs, book signings and children’s storytime events, there is rarely a blank space on the BookPeople’s online calendar. Its assertive stance on community interaction truly makes it a pillar among Austin local businesses.
Keep Austin Reading
It’s often said that books are becoming irrelevant, that youth don’t read, and independent bookstores in particular are always at the brink of closure. Spend five minutes in BookPeople and it will immediately become apparent that – in this store at least – none of those allegations are true.
The children’s section takes up half the second floor and is just as intricate as the adult section (although possibly more fun). Handwritten notes hang off every inch of the shelves, denoting employee favorites across every possible genre.
Experienced readers already know that browsing is one of the best parts of reading. For new readers, BookPeople is arguably the best place in Austin to indulge in this intimate and entertaining process.
Check out the plethora of book club events and more on BookPeople’s website.
@erinmayyyy wants to know:
Have you discovered the joy of BookPeople? What is your favorite bookstore in Austin?