The charm of an independent bookstore is in the dialogue. In Chattanooga, the bookstore is simply the place to go for a good story, whether it comes in the form of fiction, nonfiction, or chatter around the stacks. Here’s what we have to offer.
The Winder Binder Mercantile
Twenty-seven years ago, the storefront at 40 Frazier Avenue specialized in wind-up tin toys. Now home to bookstore-meets-vinyl-shop The Winder Binder Mercantile, there’s still a nod to the property’s past, with a small collection of antique and modern tin toys behind the counter–robots, a tiny rocking horse, a carousel that spins little spaceships. An eclectic take on the independent bookstore, Winder Binder’s large selection of new and used books is flanked by artwork from area folk artists and potters, Chatta-centric souvenirs, Chattanooga Football Club merchandise, and books on the history of the Tennessee Valley. Owner David Smotherman says part of the charm at Winder Binder is its unexpected combination of items for sale. “I don’t know if what I am doing would work anywhere else but Frazier Avenue,” he says. “This has always been a funky, eclectic kind of street, and that’s why what we do works so well here.”
The ultimate stop for “previously loved” books, music, video games, instruments, collectibles, and Legos, what’s impressive about McKay’s Chattanooga is the vast size of the space and the system for acquiring new items for the shelves. Here’s how it works: People stop by with books they’re ready to let go of, and McKay’s makes them an offer of cash or store credit. This means the inventory is changing by the day. Located 11 miles east of downtown on Old Lee Highway, McKay’s has aisles upon aisles dedicated to more than 120 categories of used books, including general fiction, middle grade series, true crime, mystery/thriller, geology, financial advice, manga, political analysis, travel, cooking, urban fantasy, and more. One of five McKay’s locations in Tennessee and North Carolina, the store originated as a “free enterprise library” in North Carolina in 1974 under the concept that books should be obtained at a low cost, kept for as long as needed, then returned for a credit.
A Little Bookish
When her daughter turned six years old, Miranda Atkins planned a small party for her at an independent bookstore in Michigan. They were mid-relocation to Chattanooga, and after returning to the Scenic City to settle in, she had her eye out for a similar experience here. Every time she drove past a building with a vacancy, she saw an opportunity. It was reading The Bookshop on the Corner, a novel by Jenny Colgan, that pushed her to become an entrepreneur. The protagonist is posed with a challenge: If you could do anything, what would it be? “She just blurted out, ‘I’ve always wanted to own my own bookstore,’” Atkins recalls. “When I read that line, I thought, yes!” Formerly a storefront in Ooltewah, A Little Bookish changed its business model in 2020 and became a mobile bookstore. Atkins bought a van from a couple in Kentucky, outfitted it with the original shelves from the brick and mortar location, and filled it with her books. Now a pop-up business, A Little Bookish visits area neighborhoods, markets, and businesses by request.
Known for its treasure hunting opportunities more than its organization, what makes All Books unique is its warehouse-like size and impressive collection of yarn. Located on Broad Street, in walking distance from the Creative Discovery Museum, All Books is owned by 87-year-old Polly Henry, who’s there every day and bound to drum up chit-chat about her childhood, politics, or perhaps even your personal life. “My mother made us go to school where we could learn Latin, and all we talked about at home was books,” she recalls. “Robin Hood. Robert Lewis Stevenson. Kipling. She read us the good stuff.” Born and raised in the Chattanooga area, Henry spent 30 years traveling for craft shows, stopping at bookstores along the way. She opened All Books on Signal Mountain in 1989 and moved to its current location downtown in 1991.
Infinity Flux, located just north of Northshore on Hixson Pike, is an outlet for all things Marvel, DC Universe, and pop culture. That means in addition to Spiderman, Watchmen, and Dr. Strange, you’ll find comic books and graphic novels with modern storylines like WandaVision as well. Infinity Flux offers access to single issues of the latest releases, with new comics released by publishers every Tuesday and Wednesday. And sometimes, you just have to stop by the store to gawk at a book that would break the bank. One of the shop’s most recent acquisitions is the comic with the first appearance of the Flash. Infinity Flux is also dedicated to tabletop games like Pandemic, Catan, Mysterium, Magic: The Gathering, and new releases coming straight off of Kickstarter campaigns.