Indie Bookstore Highlight: Wellington Square Bookshop in Exton, PA

One of my favorite things about traveling to new places is visiting new-to-me independent bookstores! Two weekends ago I stopped at Wellington Square Bookshop in Exton, PA while visiting my family in Coatesville.

Wellington Square Bookshop opened in 2005 as a primarily used and rare bookstore, but expanded in 2009 to new books and gift items. They occupy a beautiful, expansive space in Eagleview Town Center, a somewhat hidden development surrounded by apartments and condos.

The store’s simple facade makes it look much smaller than it actually is, and belies the fact that this hidden gem is bursting with personality (although the stone lions guarding the door are your first clue). The first thing you see upon entering the store is a large fountain with goldfish spouting water from their mouths. I’ve certainly never seen any other book shops with fountains!

To the left is a nook with baby books and items like stuffed animals and specialty blocks, and beyond that is a nook full of unique cards and more gift items. I am an adult woman in my thirties, but I very nearly purchased a set of constellation blocks. As I’m writing this, I’m regretting that I didn’t.

New fiction and nonfiction are spread out on tables to the right of the entrance, and a glass case displays rare and valuable books. The small cafe is front and center, with a nice selection of pastries and candies in addition to drinks.

One thing I loved about this store was how each section felt like a room, and each room felt like a new discovery. There are plentiful nooks and crannies with cozy vintage chairs, couches, and tables. The furniture is well-worn, clearly used, but not shabby; it’s all perfect for curling up with a good book.

The mix of new and carefully curated used books lends the store an air of mystery, and the models of hot air balloons hanging from the ceiling lend an air of whimsy. I am a sucker for tin ceilings, and this store has a beautiful one.

Since this is a blog about speculative fiction, I’d be remiss not to mention the science fiction and fantasy section. While small, there was a surprisingly good variety and I found several authors I’d never heard of before. If discovering new authors isn’t the best thing about visiting an indie bookstore, I don’t know what is.

Wellington Square also has a small but mighty children’s section and a fairly robust young adult section, along with an impressive array of signed first editions for sale.

Although the best part of any indie bookstore is its unique selection of books, I also love seeing what gift items indie stores carry. If I didn’t have a large dog (and therefore a very dusty house), I would have absolutely brought home the book-shaped light I found. In short, I could have spent a lot more money than I did.

As it stands, I’m quite thrilled with my purchase of a new book and a handsome little etched glass globe, and I’m excited to stop in the next time I visit my family!

Wellington Square Bookshop also has an online store, so if you’re interested in checking them out virtually, you can do so here! Also be sure to follow them on Twitter and Instagram!

An Ode to My Favorite Bookstore for Indie Bookstore Day

This Saturday, April 24, is Independent Bookstore Day.

Indie Bookstores across the United States will be celebrating with special events, giveaways, unique merchandise only available on Saturday, and the same great customer service and care you always find from your local bookstore.

The Independent Bookstore Day logo, featuring a small stack of books floating thanks to 3 balloons.

As a bookish kid, I loved bookstores. Any kind of bookstore. Mall bookstores, Christian bookstores, the big Barnes & Noble an hour away I only got to visit on special occasions. But most of all, I loved our local independent bookstore, which unfortunately closed in 2016.

When I wasn’t reading, I was likely begging my parents to take me to the Chester County Book and Music Company, a huge (28,000 square feet!) independent book and music store in West Chester, Pennsylvania, about a half hour’s drive from my home in nearby Coatesville.

While CCBMC wasn’t as large as, say, The Strand in New York City or Powell’s in Portland, it was bigger than your average Barnes & Noble. To give you a sense of just how large it was, there’s an LA Fitness in the shopping plaza where the bookstore used to be—and the bookstore took up that entire space.

The only other nearby bookstore was a Walden Books in the mall about twenty minutes away, but its small, corporate layout paled in comparison to the massive rooms stacked with books, magazines, and CDs at the CCBMC.

It even had a restaurant, called the Magnolia Grill, so that shoppers could take a break from the work of browsing the huge store and get a bite to eat or a cup of coffee or hot chocolate. 

The outside of the Chester County Book & Music Company. Photo copyright Shelf Awareness.

I don’t remember how often my parents consented to drive me into West Chester to lose me in the stacks for hours and hours, only to have to track me down and drag me out kicking and screaming, but it was never often enough for my insatiable desire for more books.

If my mom drove me, I knew I’d have an hour or two max, and I’d be lucky to come out with one or two new books. But if my dad took me, well, that was a good day, because it meant I had up to three hours and could probably convince him to buy me three or four new books.

I had a system for browsing the Chester County Bookstore. First stop: the adult science fiction section, where I’d check for any new Star Wars novels and read the back of non-Star Wars books to see if anything caught my eye (I was looking for military sci-fi with female main characters). Then I’d head to the back room, which housed the massive children’s and young adult sections to see if there was a new book in the Young Jedi Knights series out yet. 

Then I’d spend some time wandering through the rest of the store, looking at whatever caught my interest. I’d pick books up, smell them, page through them, check the price, check my wallet, sigh, and put them back on the shelf. 

I’m not sure what my mom did while I browsed, but my dad spent most of his time in the music section of the store. While the rise of Wal-Mart, Target, and the internet eventually forced the Chester County Bookstore to drastically downsize its music section, in its heyday it had a larger selection than Sam Goody and FYE combined. I’d always take a pass through the music section, but $15 or $20 for a CD could buy me two or three mass market paperbacks.

I dreamed of working in that bookstore when I grew up, but it wasn’t to be. A Barnes & Noble opened in nearby Exton when I was in high school, and the rise of Amazon shortly thereafter eventually forced the CCBMC into a much smaller space, and then eventually out of business.

Me with sci-fi author David Weber at a signing for Mission of Honor at the Chester County Book and Music Company in 2010.

Thankfully, communities and readers have recognized the value of small (and large) indie bookstores, and they are popping up again all over the country. They offer what Amazon can’t: events and book signings with your favorite authors, personalized customer service, a sense of community and connection, local jobs, and a comfortable place to hang out surrounded by books and people who love them.

My favorite bookstore may no longer be in operation, but the spirit of the Chester County Book and Music Company lives on in the hundreds of indie bookstores across the country. Join me in celebrating these vital elements of our communities this Saturday.

Here’s how you can participate:

  • Shout out your favorite indie bookstores on social media by tagging them and using the hashtags #BookstoreShoutOut and #IndieBookstoreDay.
  • Sign up for a virtual Indie Bookstore Day event over at IndieBound.org! With seven different events across topics and genres, you’re sure to find something that interests you.
  • Visit your favorite indie bookstore on Saturday, April 24! Indulge in a shiny new book (or two or three), pick up some exclusive Indie Bookstore Day merch, and have fun! Check out this website to find an indie bookstore near you.

If you love audiobooks and are looking for more ways to support indie bookstores, check out Libro.fm, which is offering free audiobooks for those who make a purchase of at least $15 at their local bookstore between April 24 and 26. Libro.fm financially supports indie bookstores and costs the same as Audible; what’s not to love?

What’s your favorite indie bookstore? (I’m asking for a friend. Who is me. So I can visit.) Let me know in the comments, or on Twitter @bookwitchblog!