If there is one breed of high-street shop I worry about most, it’s bookshops. They struggle hard to make ends meet as it is, on top of greedy landlords’ rent hikes and losses endured during the pandemic. My heart sinks imagining a world without them. What other type of shop do you feel instantly transported upon stepping inside, offers peace and tranquillity from the shopping crowds, sparks your imagination and holds the key to your next life-changing read? Only bookshops.
A Guide to Independent Bookshops in Brighton
To celebrate Independent Bookshop Week, show support for these vulnerable community hubs and inspire your Brighton travel planning, I’m taking you on a tour of my favourite independent bookshops around Brighton and Hove I know you’ll enjoy too.
1 Savery Books. This unpretentious family-run bookshop has been in the residential Fiveways community for over 20 years. It’s a city secret in that it’s often overlooked by visitors in favour of those in the centre of town. It’s fairly small — just one room the size of an average lounge — but packed with a good selection of second-hand books in great condition, many well-known – modern and classics – you’ve been wanting to read. They have a particularly good selection of kids’ books and a well-filled thriller section. Outside, books in boxes on tables make it hard to resist a peek on your way past. As it’s the only bookshop in the area, it operates – you could say – a circular economy in that the community donates books for the community to buy and donate back. I also heard on the local grapevine the shop owner also owns the building it’s located within so there’s no risk of it closing due to rising rents.
Find Savery Books at 257 Ditchling Road, Brighton BN1 6JH. Open Monday to Sunday, 10am–2pm
2 Books for Amnesty. With its shocking pink façade, you can’t miss this cheery second-hand charity bookshop on Sydney Street in the North Laine. Also known as The Amnesty Bookshop, it’s a proper grass-roots community hub, open since 2007, run by volunteers and stocked with donated books. They focus on contemporary fiction, social sciences, art, poetry, drama, history and children’s books and stock ethical gifts, like Fairtrade chocolate and coffee, cards, and Amnesty branded products. I love ducking in here if the area’s busy and there’s always something bizarre to discover. All the money they make is donated to Amnesty International UK. They host events like a monthly open mic nights for local creatives to share their poetry and musical talents, regular Amnesty charity quiz nights held at Presuming Ed’s coffee house on London Road as well as promotions, details of which they share on Facebook.
Find Books for Amnesty at 15 Sydney Street, Brighton BN1 4EN. Open Monday to Saturday, 11am–5.30pm; Sunday 12pm-4pm
3 Raining Books. The only bookshop in Brighton – if not the world – with books displayed in the window on intentionally wonky shelves which drew me to it in the first place. Inside, it’s as jumbled as the display would have you believe and actually looks like books have literally poured out of the sky into the shop, spilling onto the shelves, tables, chairs, the floor, and anywhere there’s available space. It might look chaotic but somehow, though, the owner knows where every book is – even the most obscure of titles. It’s probably one of the best shops in Brighton to pick up a bargain, with the most expensive books costing around £4 or £5.
Find Raining Books at 28 Trafalgar Street, Brighton BN1 4DY. Open Monday to Saturday, 10.30am–6pm
4 The Smallest Bookshop in Brighton. You won’t find it on any of the usual roundups of Brighton’s independent bookshops, nor the tourist board website. Only true Brightonians know of this diminutive bookseller I discovered quite by chance one Saturday on a wander through the Open Market near Preston Circus. It’s the size of a market stall and my new favourite bookshop. They stock second-hand books at reasonable prices including plenty of classics as well as more obscure cult offerings. It’s usually only at the Open Market on Sundays but occasionally on the odd Saturday. They also have two other tiny outlets in the independent pub on Queen’s Park Road and the Dover Castle pub on Southover Street – you pay at the bar. They also deliver locally.
Find The Smallest Bookshop in Brighton at The Open Market on Marshalls Row, Brighton BN1 4J; Dover Castle pub at 43 Southover Street, Brighton BN2 9UE and the Independent Taproom and Beer Shop at 95 Queens Park Road, Brighton BN2 0GH
5 The Oxfam Bookshop. Kensington Gardens is one of the North Laine’s most eclectic streets, an intriguing historic alleyway lined with curious little buildings housing indie shops, but, it gets seriously crowded at the weekend and during holidays. The Oxfam Bookshop is a place to bookmark, excuse the pun, for escaping said crowds if you find yourself in the area needing a refuge. It also just happens to sell lots of vintage books I’m always tempted to buy just for their covers. Oxfam branded gifts are also available to buy as well as Fairtrade chocolate.
Find The Oxfam Bookshop at 30 Kensington Gardens, Brighton BN1 4AL. Open Monday to Friday, 10am-5.30pm; Saturday 10am-6pm; Sunday closed
6 The Feminist Bookshop. Not far from this museum of curiosities in a shopwindow in Seven Dials is Brighton’s newest and most radical bookshop. It’s set in the founder, Ruth’s, front room – yes, the rest of the building is her home! Initially, she started it as a feminist book club held in members’ living rooms around Brighton and Hove, to make new friends and share a love of feminist literature. The community grew fast which inspired her to set up the shop in 2019 after a successful crowdfunding campaign. As the name suggests, every book it stocks is either written by a female author or takes a feminist stance. It’s small, cosy and modern inside and manages to fit in a little café serving drinks and cakes.
Find The Feminist Bookshop and café at 48 Upper North Street, Brighton BN1 3FH. Open Wednesday and Thursday, 11am-5pm, Friday to Sunday 11am-6pm
7 Goldsboro Books. The Brighton outpost of the London bookseller specialising in first editions, both new and second-hand, some of them signed – although second-hand in this case means rare and collectable, rather than well-thumbed holiday paperbacks, with prices starting at around £80 up to £11,000. Yikes! According to Brighton On The Inside, Goldsboro was the only bookshop in the world to have signed copies of The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith, aka JK Rowling, for sale. They do a subscription service I love the sound of: each month they send you a signed first edition hardback fiction book, but it’s full, although you can sign up here to join the waiting list. Oh, it’s also the closest independent bookshop in Brighton on this list to the seafront.
Find Goldsboro Books at 22b Ship Street, Brighton BN1. Open Monday to Friday, 10am-6pm; Saturday 11am-5pm
8 City Books. A gem to discover on this romantic hidden walk around Brunswick Town in Hove. City Books is an unpretentious, absolute local-favourite, unique for its extensive selection of local interest books, which includes Secret Brighton and Secret Sussex, which you may – or may not – have heard of, ahem. The shop was set up by a local couple, Paul and Inge Sweetman, in the mid-1980s and has managed to survive against all odds. It’s well known for its schedule of literary evenings with well-known guest speakers, such as Brighton locals Nick Cave and Peter James, as well as others like Jo Brand, Ranulph Fiennes, Vic Reeves, Will Self, Sarah Dunant, Iain M Banks, Grayson Perry, Yotam Ottolenghi, Mary Beard, and Caitlin Moran to name a few.
Find City Books at 23 Western Road, Hove, BN3 1AF. Open Monday to Saturday, 9.30am-5.30pm; Sunday, 11am-4.30pm
9 The Kemptown Bookshop. A smart bookshop in Kemp Town Village you stumble on following this guided walk. The shop opened in 1976 which makes it the oldest in the city. Its setting in a beautiful Regency townhouse makes browsing feel you’re in someone’s cosy home. There are three floors to wander, two of which are filled with new books and gifts, while the top floor is a space for writers to use who want a quiet place to work. As well as new adult and children’s books, it also sells irresistible stationery, the kind that looks so good you don’t want to use it or you’ll mess it up. Maybe that’s just me? They also sell gifts including children’s toys and games, as well as fine art prints. These belong to the previous owner, Darion Goodwin, who decided to sell the shop recently to focus on his fine art prints business, The Bookroom Art Press.
Find The Kemptown Bookshop at 91 St George’s Road, Brighton BN2 1EE. Open Monday to Saturday 9am-5.30pm
Thanks for reading! What’s your favourite independent bookshop in the world?