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Austin’s Independent Bookstores

With National Independent Bookstore Day approaching (every year on the last Saturday in April), I wanted to check out what Austin has to offer.

While I’ve never been a collector of unique or rare books, I’ve always loved books. The more the merrier, too. I can’t pass a neighborhood garage sale without stopping to see what someone else had read and is about to sell for a bargain price.

One thing my husband couldn’t part with when we moved downtown is the coffee-table size pictorial history of Phillips 66 that I found for him at a used book sale. We have downsized our books, along with all of our other possessions, but we still have plenty, to be sure.  While I’m very selective when it comes to buying another book, I am not at all opposed to purchasing something special.

Book stores are one of my favorite places to be.

The sweet man who married me may be sentimental about one or two, while I, on the other hand … LOVE.THEM.ALL.

On a Texas History and Culture Shelf at South Congress Books

When I announced to my dear hubby that National Independent Bookstore Day was in the near future, he could instantly see the writing on the wall. She’s got a plan for me, he thought. And? he asked. Well, I want to go on a little road trip and visit some hill country bookstores, find some great barbeque, then circle back to Austin for a visit to two stores I’ve been wanting to locate. Hold it, said he.  Did you say barbeque?

That’s all it took, my friends.

1st stop – Salt Lick

Where it all gets done at The Salt Lick.

2nd Stop – Wimberley

The bookstore I hoped to find just a few miles down the road in Wimberley turned out to be a gift store, but that’s okay. It was a beautiful day to lollygag in the shops and enjoy some scenery at Cypress Creek.

3rd Stop – New Braunfels

Still on the hunt for independent bookstores, we found one in New Braunfels, but it was mostly new children’s books and toys. There was, however, a cute coffee shop nearby where we enjoyed a frozen vanilla drink and a leisurely look at the shop’s stash for customers who want to enjoy their coffee in a reading nook.

4th Stop – South Congress Books

As we made our way back into Austin, we stopped in at South Congress Books. The books are ordered into groups:  different topics, interests, age levels and genres. I could have spent all day in this store perusing the titles and enjoying the feel of the pages. Prices are penciled in on the book’s first page, and most I saw were in the $30-50 range.  While the price point may mean that this isn’t really where you would go for a romantic beach read, it’s certainly where you might want to go if you’re looking to surprise someone special or take an unusual housewarming gift to the home of a book lover.  (Note: no reading couches – but you can always make a purchase and read the first chapter at Jo’s down the street. )

5th Stop – 12th Street Books

12th Street Books is a major find.

It’s been wholly owned and operated by Luke Bilberry since 2009.  Mr. Bilberry’s warm smile and comfortable conversation are the perfect entrepreneurial mixture for the owner of such an interesting store.

In a mere measure of minutes, it was obvious that this slightly rotund, mannerly man knew so very much about which I know so very little. Instantly, however, I wanted to know a whole lot more.

This is not a candy store-type experience for book lovers, but more like a visit to an art gallery where books are the art. It’s altogether inviting and insightful.

Specializing in rare and first editions, fine bindings, small-press books and books by and about Texas writers, this is the only walk-in rare book room in Austin. That’s a big deal in the book world, y’all. Some of 12th Streets’ books are under glass, but most are shelved to be shared – which means you can touch them. Gingerly, that is.

Mr. Bilberry (whose name fits him ever so well) told me that book collectors collect books for all sorts of reasons. For some, adding a missing volume to an existing set is the search criteria. For others, it’s a quest for books by certain authors. A lady once contacted him looking for books by a certain collectible author; however, it wasn’t the author she cared about. She was merely on the hunt for books by that author with flowers on the cloth cover.

This Santa Claus book is on display as a very rare find from author E. E. Cummings.

Somehow, being inside 12th Street Books brings out the Brit in me. A spot of tea enjoyed on the shop’s velvet couch would have been the perfect ending to this day of indie bookstore browsing, but, alas, Mr. B had to scurry out for an event at the Ransom.  He gave me the ol’ heave ho, and off I went.

Not far. Just out to the car, where my sweet hubby was enjoying a little peace and quiet on his phone.

Oh, my gosh! I declared. You missed OUT! From the look on his face, I wasn’t sure he agreed, but I think I can safely say that he’s just gormless, and I was definitely gobsmacked.

What a guy will do for a good plate of barbeque.

Encouraging intentional adventure, good BBQ and rare book finds,

PS – I’ve been to BookPeople many times, which is Austin’s largest indie bookstore, and where National Independent Bookstore Day will be celebrated ALL DAY on April 29.  Enjoy!

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