Podcasts & Books

Melbourne’s Best Independent Bookstores

By Suzanne Male
17th Jul 2013

You know who you are. You felt a little buzz inside when you read the headline of this article. When faced with a bookstore your inner voice can always justify spending on a book. The reason varies from the classic, "My bookshelf wouldn't be complete without it", to the desperate, "I know I have a huge pile of books to read but I need this one". While you aren't averse to the e-book, you're still a book sniffer at heart.

It doesn't stop there. You are the market for anything book-related: an iPad cover shaped as a book; all those Penguin Classic-themed tea-towels, pencils, journals, mugs. An 'I Love Books' t-shirt anyone? You dream of a room of floor-to-ceiling book shelves filled with books and a big, cosy armchair.

Deep breath. At this point you need to agree to the terms and conditions of this article about the best indie bookstores in Melbourne. The Urban List is not responsible for any credit card-leeching that may ensue.

So we are about to wax literary about the independent bookstores in Melbourne. These bookstores stand out and appear here because of their smart selection, knowledge and passion of the owners and staff, and the atmosphere.

The bottom of the bookshelf truth is that they need our support. Here's a new reason for your book-nerdy inner voice to make you get out your credit card: "It's my duty." Of course it's not possible to completely eschew the cheap bookdepository.co.uks of this world, or the appeal of finishing an e-book on your Kindle in the middle of the night and being able to download book 2 in the series at the click of a button, but buying from an indie keeps the bookshops alive as destinations, contributes to the local economy and supports a book-loving community in Melbourne. After all, these are destinations that offer more than books.


Here's a book destination that's definitely worth the forty minutes' drive from the city. Head north-east with your saved pennies/book-purchase budget/credit card. Located on the main street of leafy Eltham, the bookstore is the obvious creation of a booklover with its delicious and astute selection that suits many a taste, ranging from classics to crime to popular. And there's even a local author-penned selection. Owner Meera Govil collected the Australian Booksellers' Association Text Publishing Bookseller of the Year award in 2012, and the store is nominated this year too.
ELTHAMbookshop is not only a destination for the books and enticing book-themed gift collection, but for the constant stream of interesting events. You might just find an author working in the bookshop's window, see an interesting panel of authors at nearby arts destination Montsalvat, or spot the latest bestseller's author at the local mudbrick Eltham Library.

Where: ELTHAMbookshop | 970 Main Road in Eltham
Contact: 03 9439 8700
Opening Hours: Monday - Saturday: 09:00am - 5:30pm / Sunday: 10:00am - 4:00pm

Nearest recommended coffee and reading spot: The Lane (also hosts poetry readings) - 937 Main Rd, Eltham.

THE URBAN INSTITUTION - The Brunswick Street Bookstore?

It's a bookish oasis in the middle of all the caffeine temples, eateries and indie clothing stores. It's been there since 1987, so it's older than a lot of the people pounding the busy street outside. Its longevity can probably be put down to the collection. You can almost always find what you're looking for.

Like all these bookish destinations, the Brunswick Street Bookstore has that calm atmosphere that allows you to stay there for hours in perusal mode that often peters over the edge to block-out-the-world escapism. Make it a destination. With its late opening hours, it also makes a great place to while away half an hour while waiting for friends looking for a parking spot.

Where: 305 Brunswick St in Fitzroy
Phone: 03 9416 1030
Opening Hours: Sunday-Thursday 10:00 am - 10:00 pm / Friday-Saturday 10:00 am - 11:00 pm

Nearest recommended coffee and reading spot: Marios Cafe - 303 Brunswick St, Fitzroy.


All the Readings stores are worth a visit (St Kilda, Malvern, Hawthorn, State Library and Carlton), but Carlton Readings is worth a special mention. The local community supported it even when the American giant Borders opened across the road. It could have been all tumble weeds and a shop soundtrack of the last rites, but it was always busy, even when Borders was offering tempting discounts. Now Readings is still standing and, where Borders used to be, you can get cake and coffee at Brunetti's and you can't even taste the dust Borders left in its sweeping wake. Plus, look at all its late night opening hours — perfect for feeding the book obsession.

Where: Readings Carlton | 309 Lygon Street in Carlton
Phone: 03 9347 6633
Opening Hours: Monday - Saturday 9:00 am - 11:00 pm / Sunday 10:00 am - 9:00 pm

Nearest recommended coffee and reading spot: Tiamo - 303 Lygon St, Carlton.

THE CITY FULL STOP - The Paperback

It's close to impossible to pass by The Paperback if you love books. The window displays are inspired. It's the interesting and diverse books on display that beckon you inside. Stepping in, you'll find a small but jam-packed space that allows you to get lost in your lunch hour, or lunch 'two hour' if you're not careful.

This city book stop at the top end of Bourke Street is flanked by another Melbourne must-visit destination, the inimitable Pellegrini's. Go there with your latest purchase to get lost in a good book and a good coffee.

Where: The Paperback | 60 Bourke St in Melbourne
Contact: 03 9662 1396
Opening Hours: Monday – Thursday 9:30 am - 10:00 pm / Friday 9:30 am - 11:30 pm / Saturday 11:00 am - 11:30 pm / Sunday 12:00-7:00 pm

Nearest recommended coffee and reading spot: Pellegrini's Espresso Bar - 66 Bourke St, Melbourne.


The unassuming shop front opens up to what could only be described as an avenue of its own. Traverse the avenue to the back of the store and up the stairs, and you'll find yourself in a room full of big, beautiful photograph-filled art, fashion and architecture books. This store, too, boasts a leather armchair, as well as other seating designed to entice the booklover to stay a while longer, peruse, become attached to a book and give in to the insistent inner voice. It has a huge delicious fiction selection and cookbook selection, and an open room-like book oasis for kids. Maybe that's why it's such a busy spot.

Where: Avenue Bookstore | 127 Dundas Place in Albert Park
Contact: 03 9690 2227
Opening Hours: Monday – Sunday 9:00 am - 7:00 pm

Nearest recommended coffee and reading spot: Albert Park Deli - 129 Dundas Pl,  Albert Park.

THE BOOKISH OASIS - Embiggen Books

What's not to love here, really. We guarantee the owners/staff will be nudging you out at closing time. This place does atmosphere with a capital 'A' and ambience with a capital 'A' too. It's positively Buddhist after the craziness of Melbourne Central and the QV. It's actually in what has become a very bookish quarter, with the State Library of Victoria around the corner and the Wheeler Centre of Books, Writing and Ideas across the street. Inside it's very enticing for the booklover. Select from books on a library trolley or wooden lectern, or move a wooden ladder along the polished floor to access a book on a high shelf that's taken your fancy. Do all this with a 1920s soundtrack in a room with lighting that makes the place seem deferential to the written word and the people that come to worship it.

The collection of books is smart (the website says "curated")– if you are looking for a particular fiction title you may not find it here, but you will definitely find something of interest. Maybe you'll also spy the secret cupboard hidden behind a bookshelf. You'll see no book-themed gifts here, but don't miss the fascinating selection of curios, like a 100-million-year-old dinosaur tooth, in the wire cabinet.

Where: Embiggen Books | 197-203 Little Lonsdale St in, Melbourne
Contact: 03 9662 2062
Opening Hours: Monday - Wednesday 10:30 am - 6:30 pm / Thursday – Friday 10.30am – 7.00pm / Saturday 10.30am - 5:00 pm / Sunday 10.30am - 5:00 pm

Nearest recommended coffee and reading spot: Mr Tulk at the State Library of Victoria - 328 Swanston St, Melbourne.

Image Credit: Pinterest

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