There was a time when Milwaukee was awash in great bookshops. This is not that time. But don’t fret because there is still a range of great booksellers purveying everything from fine literature to kids classics to cutting edge poetry to political works and more.
Though there are a number of chain shops, I have not included those, nor have I dwelled too heavily on used books, though I have included a few. After you visit these, you might want to delve deeper into some of the other shops – offering mostly pre-owned books.
Happy browsing and reading. Share your favorites using the Talkback feature at the bottom.
1. Boswell Book Co.
2559 N. Downer Ave., (414) 332-1181
The sole remnant of Milwaukee’s long-standing king of Milwaukee bookshops, Harry W. Schwartz, Boswell is owned by former Schwartz buyer Daniel Goldin – recently recognized by the Council for Wisconsin Writers for his decades in the Milwaukee books biz – and located in a former Schwartz location. Goldin’s bookshop is a full-service one with a wide range of titles in every genre and category, a fulsome children’s section, magazines, greeting cards and more. Boswell is also the best place in town for appearances by authors both local and national (and international).
2. Downtown Books
(Photo: Bobby Tanzilo)
624 N Broadway, (414) 224-1799
One of the best used shops in Milwaukee is located in the heart of Downtown. This shop is especially strong in fiction and literature, but with a wide variety of media in many categories. Perfect for a little lunchtime browsing. There's another location in Walker's Point, too, at 1134 S. 1st St.
3. The Little Read Book
7603 W. State St., Wauwatosa, (414) 774-2665
Like Boswell, Little Read Book, in Tosa Village, is a general trade bookshop, albeit a smaller one. But the vibe is very neighborhoody and kids love the intimate children’s room, especially when a train thunders past outside the window.
4. People's Books Cooperative
(Photo: Matt Mueller)
804 E. Center St., (414) 962-0575
People’s is the place I went for my three-volume history of the Russian Revolution when I went to college and it’s been offering a wide variety of books on history, feminism, social justice, education and more for a couple generations now. Formerly located on the East Side, People’s is now in Riverwest.
5. Rainbow Booksellers
(Photo: Rainbow Booksellers)
5704 W. Vliet St., (414) 774-7205
Since 1981, Rainbow has been Milwaukee’s go-to for kids books. Located in Washington Heights, the shop has a selection that is unique in town, with lots of foreign language, art, multicultural and other books for young readers.
6. Reader's Choice
1950 N. Dr. Martin Luther King Dr., (414) 265-2003
Milwaukee’s premier bookshop focusing on African-American literature is located in the heart of the Bronzeville neighborhood and stocks a broad selection of fiction and nonfiction.
7. Renaissance Bookshop
(Photo: General Mitchell International Airport)
General Mitchell International Airport (MKE), 5300 S Howell Ave.
Renaissance, located on the main concourse of the airport is a hit and miss affair. Because it’s a pre-owned bookstore, the inventory is ever-changing, but can often dish up nice surprises. Not to be missed is the local interest section right by the door.
8. Woodland Pattern
(Photo: Matt Mueller)
720 E. Locust St., (414) 263-5001
Located in Riverwest, Woodland Pattern is Milwaukee’s epicenter of poetry titles, chapbooks and events, but it also stocks a great selection of small press books, and hosts a broad range of workshops, classes and readings, as well as including avant garde musical performances.
Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he lived until he was 17, Bobby received his BA-Mass Communications from UWM in 1989 and has lived in Walker's Point, Bay View, Enderis Park, South Milwaukee and on the East Side.
He has published three non-fiction books in Italy – including one about an event in Milwaukee history, which was published in the U.S. in autumn 2010. Four more books, all about Milwaukee, have been published by The History Press.
With his most recent band, The Yell Leaders, Bobby released four LPs and had a songs featured in episodes of TV's "Party of Five" and "Dawson's Creek," and films in Japan, South America and the U.S. The Yell Leaders were named the best unsigned band in their region by VH-1 as part of its Rock Across America 1998 Tour. Most recently, the band contributed tracks to a UK vinyl/CD tribute to the Redskins and collaborated on a track with Italian novelist Enrico Remmert.
He's produced three installments of the "OMCD" series of local music compilations for OnMilwaukee.com and in 2007 produced a CD of Italian music and poetry.
In 2005, he was awarded the City of Asti's (Italy) Journalism Prize for his work focusing on that area. He has also won awards from the Milwaukee Press Club.
He can be heard weekly on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories.