Around Town: Ottawa’s Best Independent Bookstores

Around Town will be a monthly series appearing on the 3rd Thursday of every month.  Featured on Around Town will be the literary culture, geography and history of a town, meaning I’ll be showcasing upcoming literary events, discussing where to find the best bookshops, and guiding you through literary tours around the world.

Since I live in Ottawa, Canada I thought it’d be best to kick-off the series by sending you off to my favourite independent bookshops here in my hometown.  Ottawa has a lot to offer in terms of a literary scene, and if you’re from out of town or new to the lit scene, I hope to show you a whole new world because Ottawa is so much more than it’s one way streets and grey government buildings.

Let’s begin!

Black Squirrel Books – 1073 Bank St, Ottawa

Black Squirrel Books has changed quite a bit in the last few years. When I first came across this bookstore, it was located in the Glebe on Bank Street.  It was a tiny, crowded shop with books piled on top of each other and barely any space to walk around.  Trust me, it was very difficult to maneuvre yourself through the few aisles when you wore a backpack and moreso if you weren’t the only customer in.  In the last two years, Black Squirrel Books has made a name for itself as its moved to a bigger location further down Bank Street in Old Ottawa South.  It’s bigger location has allowed the owners to run a bar and cafe from inside the shop, as well as be able to hold various literary and art shows every month.  This new location is across the street from the Mayfair Theatre, and right next to House of Targ, so if you’re heading to that part of town, you can easily make a day (and night) of it!

Octopus Books – 116 Third Avenue, Ottawa

I stumbled upon this little bookstore in the Glebe when I was trying to kill time before going into work for the afternoon.  It isn’t really hard to miss, there’s a sign on Bank street to help guide book lovers to their store.  From the outside, it’s a beautiful little place with a giant nautical themed mural on the side of the building featuring a very big octopus.  The inside of the shop smells like old books and, honestly, if poetry had a scent, that’s what it smelled like in there.  I think this shop is mainly used to order political and social sciences text books for Carleton students, but they had a large variety of non-textbook literature available.  In fact there’s a whole section dedicated to graphic novels, which is something I haven’t really seen at any of these other indie bookshops, and I think that’s pretty neat.

All Books – 327 Rideau St, Ottawa

Even smaller than the original Black Squirrel Books is All Books, and it’s smack dab in the middle of downtown on Rideau Street.  It’s never hard to miss this shop as the owners always stack up a table with old milk crates full of books for sale at a few bucks a pop.  In my opinion, All Books is the best kind of store.  It has books piled on the floor and overhanging out and off the shelves that line the store, it smells of old books and their prices can’t be beat.  Literally.  This place is a goldmine.  Luckily, if you’re an English student at the University of Ottawa, some professors will order their course readings through here and you’ll find the best prices since the owner knocks off several dollars off the sticker price.  It’s most convenient feature, is the neighbouring Mac’s Milk parking lot which allows for easy parking space when the twinkle of the Bytowne Cinema’s lights shine down onto the books piled high on the sidewalk glisten in your eyes, hypnotizing you with their affordable and perfect bookshop allure.

Books on Beechwood: 35 Beechwood Ave, Ottawa

This little bookstore will forever have a special place in my heart.  I came across this place when I was meeting someone for a “real people” job interview with an ESL school and the interviewer NEVER SHOWED UP.  I was distraught and confused, and I kept thinking to myself “What the heck is going on?!” Dazed, I took the stairs back down the business centre and when I came out to Beechwood, I found Books on Beechwood.  It’s a clean, spacious, but small bookstore with a penchant for the classics — this was my kind of bookshop!  In a bout of retail therapy I ended up spending over $50 on books (#WorthIt) and the older woman working the cash, noticed this.  She comforted me and gave me a free membership to the store.  Although it wasn’t the cramped and messy type of bookstore I love, for me, this store was perfect — they carry a great selection of books, their staff is very friendly, and even better is that they’re located in the same building at The Scone Witch! Yum.

Are you from Ottawa?  If so, what’s your favourite bookstore?  One of my favourites that didn’t make it onto this list in Benjamin Books located on Osgoode St right by uOttawa.  They have a huge selection of books, but since most of the English department’s professors order their books through Ben Books, I’m pretty sure it’s mainly for university students… but I just love that place anyway, there were quite a few times I was tempted to by books from another class’ reading list.