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Guide to St. Louis' Best Bookstores (Riverfront Times)

Window of the AIA St. Louis Bookstore

Print feature, Riverfront Times, March 6, 2018

Photo by Allison Babka for the Riverfront Times

Local editors know that I love exploring everything that St. Louis has to offer, so they frequently tap me to give readers the scoop on the city's best *everything* through lists and guides.

In 2018, I contributed to the Riverfront Times' guide to the Gateway City's many awesome bookstores -- something this bibliophile loved researching. The guide was published in a special city-focused magazine that served as a companion to the alt-weekly newspaper and delivered to the RFT's usual subscribers and newsracks. A few of my capsules are below.

DUNAWAY BOOKS 3111 South Grand Boulevard, 314-771-7150 The story: A community-driven space with stacks and stacks of rare treasures. The backstory: Founded in 1965 by Reginald "Pat" Dunaway, the bookstore has changed hands several times over the years. Current owners Kevin Twellman and Claudia Brodie have been running things since 2017, and manager Vernon Bain is a fixture during the week. Perfect for: Bibliophiles who love the hunt. The 80,000 second-hand books in Dunaway are spread among a maze of stacks on the store's three levels, with especially large psychology, poetry and foreign history sections. The mezzanine, which overlooks the store and its 88-year-old fully functional piano, concentrates on black and Jewish history and modern fiction, while the basement features 1970s sci-fi, the sciences and literary criticism. For a little lighter reading, find mystery novels and classic children's literature on the ground floor. Don't miss the local connections throughout the store, such as Tim Bolt's framed art along the mezzanine stairs and works by St. Louis authors and poets near the front window; local writers and musicians regularly are welcomed to the store for readings and performances. Bring your wallet: You'll rarely leave this store empty-handed. Along with used books at all price points, the treasures behind glass — such as a thick Napoleon tome from the 1800s or a signed letter from Albert Einstein on behalf of the Emergency Committee of Atomic Scientists — may set you back as much as a few thousand dollars.

THE BOOK RACK 14560 Manchester Road, Ballwin; 636-394-1233 The story: A warm, comfortable store with popular reads at low prices. The backstory: The shop, in business for more than 35 years, has changed locations a number of times, including doubling its space by moving just a few hundred feet down within its current Ballwin plaza. Owner Cindy Antonacci took over the store about seven years ago, and longtime bookseller Lauren Gockley helps customers find their prizes. Perfect for: Anyone dying to read popular bestsellers from two years ago. While the store does acquire a few new books, it's a legitimate gold mine of pre-loved modern romances, thrillers and young-adult titles, especially in paperback (don't forget to bring in your own used books for cash or store credit). Check out the expansive children's section, which features the Baby-Sitters Club and the Chronicles of Narnia books alongside vintage toys and decor. Throughout the store, signs offer tips for readers, such as the reading order for authors' ongoing series and marquee works in certain categories. If you find something good, you can start reading immediately — each section has fluffy seating that invites readers to enjoy their finds. Local-author alert: Near the check-out station, look for shelves of works by St. Louis authors. Don't miss: The back room, which is filled with classic literature in both paperback and hardback. While you're there, make a cup of coffee, curl up on the church-pew bench and note the chalkboards with reading recommendations from employees.

HAMMOND'S ANTIQUES & BOOKS 1939 Cherokee Street, 314-323-6389 The story: A bookstore full of old-world charm on Cherokee's Antique Row. The backstory: Housed in a brick beauty that was built in 1892, Hammond's has been in business for more than 35 years. The store is run by Jovanka Hammond, who had lived above the shop in its early days, and her brother Knez Jakovac, a musician who has toured the world. Perfect for: Those who want to experience the bookstore of their dreams — complete with shelving ladders. With its mysterious nooks, twinkling lights and shelves stretching to the ceiling, Hammond's is a bibliophile's heaven. The shop specializes in rare and out-of-print books. Moving from room to room and floor to floor, readers encounter everything from a vintage Peter Pan pop-up book to a 1953 world atlas to mod parlor games, with a huge selection of culture, culinary and history tomes. Don't miss the fantastically vast collection of sparkly antique costume jewelry from the Gypsy Ltd., a notable Cherokee Street shop that Hammond and Jakovac's mother had owned for twenty years before her death in 2000. Spend a full day: It's easy to spend hours browsing in Hammond's, so plan to grab a meal afterwards at one of the restaurants along Cherokee Street or pop into one of the other quaint shops nearby. Check dates and times, though, because Hammond's only is open Thursday through Saturday and some Sundays.

EYESEEME 7827 Olive Boulevard, 314-349-1122 The story: An African American children's bookstore that has gained a national following. The backstory: During their search for homeschooling materials, EyeSeeMe owners Pamela and Jeffrey Blair didn't find much that reflected black history or culture. After developing their own materials that excited their children and being prompted by teachers and community members, the Blairs opened EyeSeeMe in 2015. Perfect for: Anyone who wants children to see themselves reflected in a variety of reading materials. With books on every academic subject, EyeSeeMe brings the contributions of black Americans to the forefront, stocking literature published by Random House, Scholastic, Just Us Books and more for all ages through high school. Media moment: While EyeSeeMe focuses on academics, the shop doesn't leave out the fun. Readers will also find novels, comic books, educational card games and posters featuring African American protagonists, and the store hosts reading clubs and activities. One young reader was so excited about EyeSeeMe's stock that he arranged his own book club, Books N Bros, which caught the attention of national news outlets and catapulted EyeSeeMe into the spotlight. A community resource: Fielding questions from parents and teachers nationwide, the Blairs are viewed as creating a model for education for black and multicultural children. EyeSeeMe's founders now consult on book fairs and education initiatives and are developing opportunities for mentoring, literacy and culture presentations, and in-store classes. The store's nonprofit arm, the EyeSeeMe Foundation, provides books and programs to low-income children.

AIA ST. LOUIS BOOKSTORE 911 Washington Avenue, Suite 100, 314-621-3484 The story: A design-focused shop that celebrates St. Louis' built environment. The backstory: The bookstore for the St. Louis chapter of the American Institute of Architects is part of a global network of architecture professionals. Currently housed in the Lammert Building, a city landmark, the local AIA chapter previously spent decades in the historic Wainwright Building, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Perfect for: Those looking for St. Louis items without the touristy kitsch. The AIA bookstore is a small space but features a mighty selection of carefully curated books and gifts revolving around St. Louis architecture and design. Here, shoppers can find books about the architecture in the Central West End, rides from the old Forest Park Highlands amusement park and Missouri hauntings alongside smaller gifts such as laser-cut pop-up cards showcasing major St. Louis landmarks or children's books about the Gateway Arch. The shop also carries replicas and prints of works by globally known architects like Frank Lloyd Wright. Look for new items in the store's ever-changing window display. Claim to fame: President Bill Clinton asked his driver to pull over when he spotted the AIA St. Louis bookstore during a city visit in late 2017. The former U.S. president and design enthusiast picked up a variety of books and gifts, including Hero Decks, a collection of playing cards starring the Cardinals' best players past and present.

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