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Readers' Choice: What's the Best Bookstore in Marin?

Some say bookstores are a dying breed, but Marin still hosts some great spots to browse hardcovers, sip a tea or listen to a literary speaker. Let us know which book shop is your favorite.

We pride ourselves as being your online source for all things local. But in the age of iPads, Kindles, Nooks and their countless brethren, we gotta admit to still cherishing the feeling of curling up with a physical book. It doesn't run out of batteries, and you can throw it on the floor without breaking anything. Where do you go when you need a new dose of fiction?

The nominees for the best bookstore in Marin are:

  •  (Larkspur)
  •  (Corte Madera)
  •  (Novato)
  •  (San Anselmo)
  •  (Mill Valley)
  •  (San Rafael)
  •  (Mill Valley)
  •  (San Anselmo)
  •  (San Rafael)

And if you own or manage one of the businesses in our contest, be sure to "Claim" your listing; this allows you to customize the information that appears on our site, and to thank your loyal customers for the five-star ratings they give you.

Robin Goodfellow July 26, 2012 at 06:36 PM
Heldfond Book Gallery is the last Rare Bookshop left in Marin County! Dealers in historic and collectible books at the same location in downtown San Anselmo for 21 years.Absolutely the coolest bookstore on the entire West Coast,Marin is culturally fortunate to have this internationally famous treasure in its midst.They are certainly deserving of local support!
Sue Molina July 27, 2012 at 05:02 AM
Let's be real. Heldfond's is a bookstore for people living in a world very different from mine.It is a place that obviously caters to those fortunate folk who can indulge themselves in serious historic museum, quality books...and pay the price.I am a working Mom with 2 children who loves books and wishes to pass this passion on to my kids. I want them to love the feel, history and beauty of the real thing and not grow up thinking of books as backlit digital pages. Although I can't afford 99% of the books they have on their shelves, I make it a point to bring Nick and Tammy into the bookstore every week... Just to expose them to the atmosphere of reverence and love of books. I've been doing this for at least a year and even though they haven't made a dime off me, they have never failed to greet us with open arms and spend crazy amounts of time showing us the new arrivals and allowing my kids to handle everything from first edition Hemingway's to books handmade by 15th century monks...all the while instructing my kids about the world and history of books!!! They are devoted to passing on the love of books and I'm so grateful that such a place still exists in our community.This is a bookstore unlike any other and I truly hope they will be here for my grandchildren to experience!
Julian Berg July 27, 2012 at 06:03 AM
SInce early 2010, The Heldfond Book Gallery in downtown San Anselmo has provided me with: 1st Edition - Catcher In The Rye 1st Edition - Charles Dickens - A Christmas Carol 1st Edition - F.Scott Fitzgerald -The Great Gatsby 1st Edition - Hunter Thompson - Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas - Signed by Author 1st Edition - Huckleberry Finn - Signed by Mark Twain The finest collection of Rare Books is right here in Marin,,,lucky us!
Yvonne Fairbairn July 31, 2012 at 09:58 PM
Robert, the Marin County store on Grant is called The Book Place, and it is listed on the choices for your vote. If you want quantity and low prices it is the place to go. If you want high quality (suitable for gifting or your own to keep library) you need to check out the San Rafael City Library book store on C Street. We have places to sit and shuffle our stock and a wonderful patio out front with chairs and books to check out also. It is located between 4th and 5th streets on the east side. If you come on Wednesday mornings you can say hello to me, as that is my day to work there. Yvonne
Patricia Hess July 31, 2012 at 10:10 PM
Yvonne mentions that The Book Place has quantity, but not quality, or "books to gift or keep." I beg to differ. The Book Place has MANY high quality books at wonderful prices--much less than the San Rafael store charges. And a very soft sofa on which to read for a while.
willard dixon August 03, 2012 at 04:06 AM
Friends Books at 1016 C Street is a charming small book shop with both used and brand new books in great condition. We find all our gifts there, plus a great selection of trade fiction for beach reading, great art and cooking sections, all carefully curated. This is our go-to book spot.
frank mills August 03, 2012 at 06:06 AM
I'm shocked- at one time Marin County was replete with Rare and Used Bookstores rivaling even San Francisco. Today...there is one rare bookstore left, 1 used bookstore and a few library thrift shops. Certainly no shortage of nail salons and spas though. This cultural wasteland perfectly counterpoints Heldfond's. How ironic that such a world class bookstore exists in this affluent desert. Does anyone remember what a real bookstore is like?Get yourselves to Heldfond's before it too is replaced by a trendy boutique!
Brent Ainsworth August 04, 2012 at 07:05 PM
We based our list on nominations from our readers. Votes were taken in June. Plus we're focusing mostly on stores within our Patch communities. I'm sure it's a great store, though.
Michelle Saevke Leopold August 07, 2012 at 10:24 PM
why is voting closed for this category? :-(
Jim Welte August 08, 2012 at 04:44 AM
Sorry Michelle - that was our mistake - voting is open until Aug. 17 - you should be able to fine just fine now.
Pat Ravasio August 09, 2012 at 12:06 AM
BOOK PASSAGE is the best! It has such a loyal following, it has been able to withstanding a serious predatory marketer right down the road (which is what has killed off all the great bookstores!). So glad to see that Barnes & (Ig)Noble has received ZERO votes. They should be boycotted until they learn how to support their local communities, schools, writers and readers as Book Passage and other independents do so well. Vote with your $$$.
Citizen August 09, 2012 at 03:00 PM
Books stores are not like restaurants. You don't drive 30 miles to go a bookstore for a book which is available at a closer location. But you go to a particular bookstore for its uniqueness. BOOK PASSAGE has authors visiting there all the time.
Michelle Saevke Leopold August 09, 2012 at 05:06 PM
Thanks for fixing that!
Jonah Harte August 11, 2012 at 10:18 PM
Speaking of "uniqueness"...Heldfond Book Gallery in San Anselmo is about as rare and unique as the books they sell.This is a REALLY SERIOUS bookstore. I love it!!!
Lizzardking's Rise August 11, 2012 at 11:19 PM
I love Book Passage, they are nice to dogs. But the owner, Elaine Petrified scares me a little.
Patricia Hess August 11, 2012 at 11:23 PM
Oh, Lizzardking, Elaine Petrocelli is a totally delightful person! She;s been very supportive of the libraries and One Book One Marin. Great lady!
Myra Hanson August 12, 2012 at 06:46 AM
Definitely... the most beautiful collection of books I've ever seen. Bought a First Edition copy of Goodnight Moon for a christening gift and could not be more pleased ! Heldfond's is a cultural asset to our community!!!!
Anita Paz August 17, 2012 at 07:27 PM
I just ran across this poll and I think its really very unfair.You have two different types of business's here.There's a group of independent, full blown retail bookstores ( Book Passage, Heldfond's, Booksmith, etc. and then you have a group of Friends of Library stores ( Book Place, Friends of Mill Valley Library, Friends Books). The first group sell books to the public for which they have paid a wholesale price.The profit derived from these sales, like any true retail business, then goes to pay staff, acquire inventory, pay taxes and operating expenses. The second group are really nothing more than thrift stores...receiving benefits of non-profit status, manned by volunteers selling donated books which they have paid nothing for. Now, I'm all for supporting our libraries, as I'm sure all the retail bookstore owners are but, considering the financial difficulties the retail bookstores must be suffering just to stay in business, I think the exposure this poll brings should more properly shine on them. This poll emphasizes the un-level playing field that exists between the real independent bookstores and the Library Stores. How are the retail bookstores supposed to compete against a library store that pays nothing for its inventory, its staff, taxes, etc.???This pole should have placed these Library stores in a different category...Best Thrift Store, or something similar.
Liam Hartley August 17, 2012 at 07:42 PM
You're SO right Anita! I was actually in Heldfond's last week selling some old books and the book-buyer there bought a few, then suggested I donate the rest of them to one of the Library stores. I asked him if he didn't think that was slitting his own throat and he said yeah...probably....but the libraries need help. Maybe not the best business decision but, kinda shows where their head's are at !
Grace Tyler August 18, 2012 at 12:43 AM
Voting was supposed to have closed tonight at 11:59. Why is voting ended at 5:30????
Jan Grissom August 18, 2012 at 01:28 AM
Hey!!! Why has Patch closed voting in this category 6 hours early ????Something smells fishy!!!
Ivor Dysin August 18, 2012 at 01:48 AM
Yes...closing poll early completely skews the result and compromises the whole point of the thing.
Sylvia Barry August 18, 2012 at 02:15 AM
Congratulations to the Book Place and its volunteers for making this a great book store, benefiting many!!! We are proud of you and your wonderful work!
George Aquino August 18, 2012 at 03:21 AM
Judging by the number of Library affiliated people leaving comments here...and considering the Patch mysteriously closed voting in this category 6 hours early...I'd hardly call this an accurate result. I'm certain there are others, like me, who have been locked out of the voting, who agree with Anita's earlier comment about the inequity of Library stores vs. independent retail bookstores.Shame on the Patch for not allowing us to express our support for these independent retail booksellers with our vote ! Call me a skeptic but, I can't really believe the sophisticated general populace of Marin County considers what someone earlier called a Library "Thrift Store" to be the Best Bookstore in Marin. C'mon...Really? Is that what we've come to ? Perhaps the explanation lies elsewhere...perhaps with the 125+ unpaid, volunteers at the Library store...all with access to computers...and, unlike those of us who have been locked out, the opportunity to cast votes ?
Barbara Madrid August 18, 2012 at 03:26 PM
One thing is clear: voting was cut off for everyone at the same time, not just those commenting above. I agree with other comments that non-profit library stores and retailers are two very different animals--much like comparing Nordstrom and TJMaxx. However, we work as hard or harder to get donated items sorted, organized and displayed. I also don't believe they are competing for the same customer (comparing Heldfond to Book Place). We offer inventory for the masses, not necessarily the sophisticated collector. Can't we just say that both gained additional exposure so that all may benefit? I volunteer at Book Place--most of the people there had no idea about voting or Patch polls. All stores do or should be helping customers find what they seek by referring people to other bookstores in their community. I know WE do. That's how we can help each other survive. This was supposed to be fun, people.
Alex Horvath August 18, 2012 at 03:27 PM
I love it that people in Marin are so passionate about their local book stores!
Erik Heldfond August 18, 2012 at 07:03 PM
I just returned to the bookstore this morning from vacation and one of our staff informed me of this poll. I've read the comments above with great interest and appreciate The Patch enabling a forum for the discussion of bookstores. My reaction was that of Mr. Horvath's - it is gratifying that people here are emotionally involved with their bookstores.This is as it should be, for a community is culturally defined by the bookstores it supports ! I wish to congratulate the staff and volunteers at the Book Place on this public recognition of the fine and important work they do in support of the Public Library. For more than two decades, our bookstore has been engaged in multitudinous efforts in support of Libraries throughout Marin. From lectures and appraisals to organization and donation, we have stridently demonstrated our commitment to and appreciation for, the Public Libraries of our community. Indeed, it has been our standard policy to refer clients offering books to us for sale which do not meet our requirements, to donate them to one of the Public Library stores. There are some vital issues raised in many of these comments - some were expressed a bit too forcefully but, they are well considered.Although not applicable to our rather niched business, I can readily see the financial inequity extant between the other Retail Bookstores and Library stores and the anxiety involved.Times are tough. Local support is the key. Erik Heldfond Owner Heldfond Book Gallery,Ltd.
Patricia Hess August 18, 2012 at 08:50 PM
I really appreciate your thoughtful and generous comments. There are not enough bookstores in Marin; we need each and every one of them. We ought to start a club and get together now and then to share stories and ideas. Thank you for your thoughts and continued good luck to you and your lovely store. Patricia Hess, long-time Book Place volunteer
Barbara Madrid August 18, 2012 at 10:12 PM
Thank you, Mr. Heldfond, for your gracious remarks. I agree wholeheartedly--there is a place and a need for all of us. We understand that times are tough, and that goes for the libraries too--the cuts have been deep. The most important thing we can do is provide access to books, whether to see a child's face light up, or to delight someone who's found a rare edition for which they've searched a long time. The key is to support local booksellers, and not the online retailers, whenever possible. The volunteers at Book Place (and we are 100% volunteer) give totally of themselves, and inspire me daily. After 19 years of volunteering here, and the last 2 years managing the store, I still love the joy of discovery and helping to find someone find something to capture his/her interest, or to find a home for their precious donations. The best to you.
Jim Welte August 18, 2012 at 11:36 PM
Thanks to everyone who voted and commented on this. First off, I'd like to apologize that the voting ended a few hours early - it was a simple mistake. I'd remind you, however, that voting was opening for more than three weeks, and while we appreciate the heightened interest as the deadline neared, our intent was not to stifle voting, just an honest mistake that affected all nominees equally. Congrats to Book Place, as well as Heldfond and Book Passage for their strong showings. We'll be running a story highlighting all of the winners next week.


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