Melbourne is full of pleasures for readers and writers. There’s the Wheeler Centre’s year-round calendar of literary events, and the city’s regular writers’ festivals (including the Melbourne Writers Festival and The Emerging Writers’ Festival. But day in day out, the city’s booksellers more than pull their weight to keep the City of Literature supplied with reading material. In no particular order, here are our picks for the city’s best independent bookstores.
Level 3, Curtin House, 252 Swanston Street, Melbourne
With a focus on art, graphic design and photography, Metropolis is a one-stop home for gorgeous coffee-table books in one of the city’s most celebrated buildings, Curtin House. Climb three flights of stairs and immerse yourself in everything from music biographies, to street-art monographs; from stunning doorstopper architecture handbooks, to imported booklets on fashion and textiles. And just when you thought Metropolis couldn’t get any more Melbourne, you discover that it has an entire section devoted to the art and culture of tattooing.
Mon to Thu 10am–6pm
The Sun Bookshop
10 Ballarat Street, Yarraville
This is the local bookstore you wish your own neighbourhood would steal. Despite its small size, The Sun has in recent years become the literary hub of the inner west. Next door, the stunning Art Deco Sun Theatre hosts the store’s impressive calendar of regular author events and monthly book clubs. In-store, there’s a strong focus on supporting and promoting contemporary Australian literary fiction, and you’re likely to find local authors swapping recommendations with the chatty, knowledgeable staff.
Mon to Sat 9am–9.30pm
Level 1, Nicholas Building, 37 Swanston Street, Melbourne
Among the artists and eccentrics of the Nicholas Building, Collected Works bills itself as “Australia’s only specialist poetry bookshop”. It hosts launches, readings and events, and is the social and creative heart of Melbourne’s passionate and tight-knit poetry community. Owner Kris Hemensley (himself a poet) is notoriously generous, regularly offering customers discounts when they purchase one of his favourite books. After a recent break-in, poets and customers rallied around an impromptu online fundraising drive, donating more than $4400 to the store in a warm-and-fuzzy show of appreciation.
Mon to Fri 9.30am–5.30pm
127 Dundas Place, Albert Park
For almost 30 years, Avenue Bookstore has been a favourite with bayside locals – many of whom have been shopping at the store since it opened. The expansive store has a large and well-rounded range, with particularly strong children’s and literary-fiction sections. The staff is eager to offer recommendations – whether for book clubs, kids’ parties or your grumpy, hard-to-buy-for uncle who hates everything. The light-filled mezzanine level, stocked primarily with nonfiction and coffee-table books, begs you to curl up in the Eames recliner and try before you buy.
Books For Cooks
129/131 Therry Steet, Melbourne
The essence of a specialist bookstore, Books For Cooks stocks new and used books on all things food, wine and culinary culture, for everyone from the casual cook to the professional chef. You’ll find copies of the latest Ottolenghi cookbook alongside an antiquarian sommelier’s guide to the south of France. Since moving to a new site earlier this year, Books For Cooks is now conveniently located next door to the Queen Victoria Market. Pick up a cookbook to get some inspiration for your dinner, then head straight over to the market to track down the necessary ingredients.
Mon to Sat 9am–5pm
Readings St Kilda
112 Acland Street, St Kilda
The St Kilda store is the punk-rock little sibling of the much-loved Melbourne institution. It’s not as old or storied as Readings Carlton, or as large as Readings Hawthorn; but possesses an air of slightly crumpled refinement that is classic St Kilda. Besides the excellent range of fiction, nonfiction and children’s books that is the hallmark of any Readings store, it also stocks a substantial range of contemporary and classic vinyl, with regular, free in-store music performances. An extensive staff recommendations section, alongside several shelves showcasing books from small and independent local publishers, is sure to delight literary treasure hunters.
629 Rathdowne Street, Carlton
A Carlton institution, Alice’s has long been frequented by the eccentric academics and procrastinating students who spill out of nearby Melbourne University. In many ways, Alice’s is the platonic ideal of a second-hand bookstore: overflowing shelves stretching to the ceiling; a determinedly opaque system of categorisation; and the glorious smell of dusty paper, which prompts customers to sigh and sniff the air upon entering. Glossy, leather-bound hardbacks rub shoulders with tattered paperbacks, and Alice’s also supports newer literary ventures by stocking small literary journals such as Bread, Wine & Thou and The Suburban Review.
Mon to Sat 10am–6pm
294 Smith Street, Collingwood
Though relatively new to the scene, Happy Valley is a store to get lost in. Featuring a carefully chosen range of new fiction, art and design, and quirky gift books, it also sells hard-to-find homewares and accessories from local and international makers. Owner Chris Crouch previously owned music store Polyester Records, and brings a similar ethos to bear here. The store is the perfect mix of cool and fun – a stylish and interesting space that offers plenty of food for thought and never feels pretentious.
Mon to Fri 10.30am–6.pm