In many communities, bookstores act as a literary hub, creating a place for writers, editors, publishers, and their readers to come together. Some of these locations have even impacted literary history and the works we consider canonical today. That’s why we’re taking a trip back in time to five famous bookstores with some history of their own.
1. Shakespeare and Company, Paris
Arguably the world’s most famous bookstore, the original landmark was opened by American expatriate Sylvia Beach in 1919, and it closed in 1941 during the German occupation of Paris during the Second World War. It wasn’t until 1951 that a new storefront (and the current tourist attraction) was opened in a new location on 37 rue de la Bûcherie. The store owner, George Whitman, named the bookstore in memory of the original Shakespeare and Company. Throughout the 1920s, Beach’s store became a hub for modernist writers such as Ernest Hemingway, Ezra Pound, and Gertrude Stein, even acting as an office for James Joyce. In 1922, Beach published his controversial novel, Ulysses. This kind of literary influence continued once Whitman opened his shop in 1951, as writers like Allen Ginsberg and William S. Burroughs were known to frequent the new location. Whitman famously referred to the store as “a socialist utopia masquerading as a bookstore.”
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2. City Lights, San Francisco
Established in 1953 by Peter D. Martin and the poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti, City Lights Bookstore remains an institution in the San Francisco area. In 1955, Ferlinghetti began City Lights Publishers, which was most recognized for the controversial publication of Allen Ginsberg’s famous collection of poetry, Howl and Other Poems. The publication resulted in a municipal court trial, where Ferlinghetti was tried on the charge of selling obscene material. Eventually, the judge ruled in favor of Ginsberg’s collection, setting a new publishing precedent. City Lights Publishing went on to publish work by Frank O’Hara, Noam Chomsky, and many others, and the storefront that started it all is still there today.
3. Old Corner Bookstore, Boston
Image courtesy of trolleytours.com
The Old Corner Bookstore in Boston houses quite the unique history—first as a home to Anne Hutchinson, a Puritan midwife who was famously banished from the colony for religious heresy, then as an apothecary. It wasn’t until 1832 that the publishing company—eventually named Ticknor and Fields, after its primary operators, James Thomas Fields and William Davis Ticknor—opened its door. The two men worked out of Old Corner Bookstore, which became a hub for writers such as Nathaniel Hawthorne, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Charles Dickens. Ticknor and Fields are still recognized as one of the most influential publishers and store owners in American literary history.
4. Scribner’s, New York City
Image by Jim Wilson/The New York Times
Scribner’s Bookstore, the retail front for Charles Scribner’s Sons Publishing, opened in 1913, becoming a large hub for writers on the East Coast. Throughout its lifetime, the Scribner family published works by Edith Wharton, Ernest Hemingway, Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, and Thomas Wolfe. Though the family eventually merged with Macmillan Publishers in 1984 and sold the bookstore the same year, the building and the Scribner’s family legacy remains a notable contribution to twentieth-century literature.
5. Librairie Galignani, Paris
Librairie Galignani, or simply Galignani, was a notable addition to the literary scene in Paris as the first English-language bookshop on the continent with its opening in 1801. The bookstore became synonymous with British and American writers visiting Paris, creating integral ties between English literature and the rest of Europe. The bookstore’s creator and namesake, Giovanni Antonio Galignani, also opened a press called that published editions of notable nineteenth-century novels and a monthly newspaper called Galignani’s Messenger. Owned today by the direct descendents of Galignani’s nephew, Librairie Galignani continues to serve the readers of Paris.