The book news out of Texas isn’t all about bans, lawsuits, and school board battles. We noticed something, out in the field: our state today has more independently owned bookstores than we’ve ever seen before. Texans crave bookshops in our communities, and whether as entrepreneurs or customers, we’ll take action to keep them there.
Over the past decade or so, and especially since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, new indies have opened in Texas at a rapid clip, joining venerable old institutions such as BookPeople, in Austin; Murder by the Book, in Houston; and the Twig in San Antonio that have shaped the lives of our magazine’s writers and readers.
In the face of online retail giants and big-box stores, many of us believed that our communities could no longer support locally owned bookstores. So it’s maybe a surprise that new shops are sprouting in small- to medium-sized cities (Abilene, Boerne, San Angelo, Seguin, Waco, Waxahachie) and even in tiny towns (Clifton, Rockdale). New indies are deepening the cultural offerings in suburbs (Arlington, Keller, Pflugerville). They’re adding even more charm to Texas’s beloved courthouse squares (Denton, Georgetown, Granbury, and Rockwall). And they’re filling out more-populous places, such as Austin and South Dallas, with patchworks of neighborhood stores.
The new shop owners are a diverse bunch, and their businesses are too. Waxahachie has a combination bookshop and plant store. Selma, outside San Antonio, is home to a store lovingly devoted to the horror genre. In Austin, Houston, and elsewhere, Black entrepreneurs have opened new spaces dedicated to Black writing and thought. In Seguin (as in Austin, Belton, Dallas, Longview, and San Antonio), you can run up a bar tab in the same place where you buy the latest Brené Brown.
Suddenly, there was an abundance of independently owned bookstores in Texas, so we decided to map as many of them as we could find. Though we’ve got nothing against a good Barnes & Noble, we mapped only independent stores, as a celebration of local Texas flavor. The list covers shops whose stock is at least 50 percent new titles. We recognize the impact of shops such as Brownsville’s Búho; Burrowing Owl, in Canyon; Brave Books and Literarity, both in El Paso; and Recycled, in Denton, but our focus here is on places that sell new releases, that participate in the latest literary culture—carrying your book club picks, hosting touring authors, and sometimes fighting book bans. As one owner we spoke with, Arlene Kasselman of Abilene’s year-old Seven and One Books, said: “A bookstore can move the needle on how we think.”
Seven and One Books
South Africa native Arlene Kasselman and her son Spencer opened this shop last year, renovating a long-empty space amid several revitalizing blocks of old downtown Abilene. There’s a Mary Oliver quote painted at the entrance, and behind the cottagey hanging sign that reads “Seven and One: A Book Sanctuary” is a high-ceilinged, airy haven for the city’s book-loving community. The stock includes new fiction and nonfiction, a children’s corner, a bookcase full of classics, and stationery and gift items. Customers, including many from the four nearby colleges and universities, take advantage of the free hot tea—they put on a kettle and make themselves a cup, Arlene says. On our visit, one group of women doing needlework had taken over the sofa area and another was having a lively discussion at a game table. It’s Abilene’s new living room. 1138 N. Second, Abilene.
Read more of this article and other bookstores that were featured in Texas Monthly by clicking here.