Indie Bookstores

Recommended Reading Orange County bookstores where readers find their niche

When Internet shopping for books feels lonely, and browsing the long aisles of a giant chain store seems daunting, look to Orange County’s independent bookstores. They fill every niche, from mystery to metaphysical, from comic to cultural. While other retailers face complex challenges in this economy, these shopkeepers hold their own thanks to specialization, community involvement, and a passion for the printed word. Expect personalized service, offbeat inventory, and a calendar of events designed to keep you coming back.

1 Martha’s Bookstore 

This store offers local books among its fiction, nonfiction, children’s titles, gifts, and greeting cards. A white wrought-iron entrance leads book lovers to a welcoming cup of tea from co-owners and sisters Stephanie Thomas and Kathy Wales, who named the place after their mother. Martha’s has been charming customers for 20 years. 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily, 308½ Marine Ave., Balboa Island, 949-673-7185,

 Book Carnival

Owners Pat and Ed Thomas have kept suspense-thriller and Stephen King-style dark fantasy alive in Orange County for 28 years with a mixture of new books and signed, first-edition collectibles in their strip-mall store. Author Dean Koontz dedicated “Midnight” to the owners, and Michael Connelly featured them in his novel “The Narrows.” 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. weekdays, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday. El Dorado Plaza, 348 S. Tustin Ave., Orange, 714-538-3210,

 A Whale Of A Tale Children’s Bookshoppe

This 20-year-old store is a don’t-miss for families who love to read, drawing top authors, from J.K. Rowling to Lemony Snicket (Daniel Handler). You’ll find a comfortable atmosphere, ideas for gift baskets, and knowledgeable staff, includ-
ing owner Alex Uhl. Watch for scheduled story times. 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. weekdays, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday. University Center, 4199 Campus Drive #A, Irvine, 949-854-8288,

 New & Recycled Romances

Owner Toni Bruner has kept the romantic fires going for 22 years by selling new, recycled, and collectible books. Bruner also will preorder new books in all romance genres, including the paranormal. 10:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday. 143-145 Broadway, Costa Mesa, 949-645-0529,

 Alakazam Comic Books and Related Items 

Owner Marco Davanzo and general manager Will Call put Pow! into the inventory with about 50,000 single-issue comics, roughly 3,000 trade paperbacks or graphic novels, plus action figures and collectible toys. Davanzo has owned the store for 10 of its 20 years in business. Catch the Midnight Madness sale in November. 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. weekdays, 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday. University Center, 4237 Campus Drive #B-162, Irvine, 949-854-3744,

 Laguna Beach Books

Located at The Old Pottery Place, the store opened three years ago in the redesigned mixed-use center that includes Sapphire Laguna restaurant. Owner Jane Hanauer keeps an inventory of local guides, cooking, travel, and children’s books. Ask about open-mike and poetry nights. 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily. 1200 S. Coast Highway #105, Laguna Beach, 949-494-4779,

 Martinez Books and Art Gallery

Founded 16 years ago by Rueben Martinez, this store specializes in Spanish and English books, bilingual children’s literature, magazines, cookbooks, and art books. One room is dedicated to children, with a 1 p.m. story time every Saturday. 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Saturday. 1200 N. Main St., Santa Ana, 714-973-7900,

 Crystal Cave 

Find shelves stocked with volumes about astrology, the Kabbalah, meditation, angels, and more. Owners Karen Tate and Barbara Rapp-Geerlings have been in business for 30 years. The store also offers gifts, jewelry, and astrological services. 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Saturday, noon to 6 p.m. Sunday. 891 Baker St. #A-16, Costa Mesa, 714-754-1151,

 The Bookman

The 20-year-old store is probably the largest used bookshop in Southern California. Owners David Hess and Paul Bonaventure pack as many books as possible into the 8,000-square-foot space. Used, out-of-print, and specialty books represent 80 percent of stock, but new books were added about four years ago. The Bookman Too is in Huntington Beach. Check Web site for each shop’s hours, which vary. 840 N. Tustin St., Orange, 714-538-0166; 19111 Beach Blvd., Huntington Beach, 714-596-1999,

Photograph by Jessica Boone

This article originally appeared in the October 2009 issue

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