DC Bibliophilia – The City’s Best Used Bookstores


Liz here again :)

Yesterday, Otessa and I walked down to the Spanish Steps and took some photos (which you can check out on our Instagram pages @otessamarieghadar and @iwampum). While we were walking down there, we got to talking about some of the local secondhand bookstores we have in DC.

With the demise of Borders and the predicted fall of Barnes & Noble, DC surprisingly has a thriving secondhand bookstore community. I’ve always been a bookworm. And when I started regularly hanging out in DC as a teen, bookstores were the first place I naturally thought of visiting. Granted, as a teen there weren’t many other places I could hang out legally, but it was adventure enough for me.

Since OJBG takes place in DC and this is Otessa’s old stomping ground, I wanted to share with you bibliophiles some of our favorite local used bookstores:

Second Story Books:

This store is right in the heart of Dupont Circle and offers a variety of used and rare books. They also carry rare illustrations, posters, maps, movie stills, cassette tapes, children’s books, and other wonderful things. Their book shelves include fiction, various nonfiction shelves categorized by country/world regions, music, travel, economics, history, philosophy, etc. I would say they specialize in finding those rare books that you’ll have a hard time finding elsewhere, which takes a knowledgeable person. I’ve found rare, out-of-print books that my undergrad econ professors mentioned as well as great historical time-pieces, like political cartoon prints and newspaper clippings. They also have an extensive collection of art books, including beautiful coffee table books on artists from just about every era. Some of their books can get pricey, depending on their rarity, but for the most part they’re reasonably priced. And if you’re looking for that perfect musk of old books and aged paper, this is the place to go.

Idle Time Books:

Idle Time Books is in the Adams Morgan neighborhood in DC. This is one of the first places Otessa mentioned to me when we started talking about DC bookstores. She loves this place, for many reasons, but also for the fact that they have lovely armchairs that you can sit in while you browse through a book. They’ve been around since ’80s and offers used, recent, and out-of-print books, as well as greeting cards, newspapers, records, and CDs. The great thing about this place is also its neighborhood location. After picking up your book at Idle Time, you can grab a coffee next door or take your pick of the plethora of great ethnic food spots. If you’re looking for more than just a used bookstore, Idle Time would be a great place for you to visit– you can make a whole experience of the trip!

Books for America:

This is actually one of my all time favorite places because whatever meager amount you end up spending here will go towards helping spread literacy and reading in the DC-area. Books for America is actually a small non-profit organization that donates millions of books to local schools, shelters, and other organizations. They have a small store in Dupont that is filled with the best fiction, books on history, social science, philosophy, cooking, poetry, etc. I know from my experience buying books from them and from seeing people donate books to them, that their staff is extremely knowledgeable. When I snag a rare copy of a book, whether on political science or literary criticism, the person ringing me up always has a comment, “good find!” or “this book is great!” They’re very selective with their books and their selection is on point. Best part is I’ve never seen a book there priced over $5. They’re usually in the $1.50-$4.50 range, which, honestly, can’t be beat. Occasionally they have warehouse sales and everything (coffee table books and all) is $1- one dollar! This is a true DC treasure.

Kulturas Books:

This is a new-ish location for the long-time store. Kultura’s is also in Dupont Circle and is super cute. They specialize in providing used and out-of-print books in art, architecture, photography, film, and also have a great selection of books on philosophy, literature (including children’s lit), and other nonfiction, from history and economics, to cooking, travel, and science. They also have a great selection of French and Spanish books and other foreign language dictionaries. This store brands itself not only as a secondhand bookstore, but they also sell original art and “sort-of-vintage” clothing, which I think is just a charming way of saying consignment clothing that may-or-may-not be vintage but is definitely quality and cute. It’s a bookstore with a unique quirk to it and one that I think makes a great addition to the DC book community.

Capitol Hill Books:

Capitol Hill Books is in the Eastern Market neighborhood of DC, just down the street from the Capitol. It was the very first used bookstore I ever visited in DC and it is the most unforgettable. This place is amazing. There are books crammed in every nook and cranny imaginable– even half of the staircase and bathroom is occupied by books. And once you pull a book off a shelf, you realize that there are even more books hidden behind it. Just look at the images that pop up when you search this store on Google images. The old man who owns this place is also just so fitting. His snarky hand-written labels on featured books, or his “Not Spoken Here” sign, are silly, but honestly frank. This store offers three incredible floors of books on every subject. If you enjoy digging through books, being surrounded by books for hours, the thick dust of old, loved pages, you should come here. And afterwards, grab a tasty treat from the Eastern Market grocers, or get a vintage bag at the flea market. If there had to be one DC used bookstore I recommended to you, it would be Capitol Hill Books.

Speaking of books… have you seen Otessa’s OJBG ebooks? You can get them here! And FYI, if you haven’t been to the Spanish Steps, check out this OJBG Secret Project video on them. Secret Project gives you the low-down on all the awesome events and hidden gems DC has to offer, so be sure to browse the other videos!

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