Discover Charlottesville’s Bookstores
Bookstores help make Charlottesville the unforgettable college town it is. We’re fortunate to have six independent bookstores, each distinctive, and each a repository for serendipity and discovery. When in Charlottesville, do as the literary romantics do. Visit our bookstores. Here’s a Guide to help you navigate each.
Editor’s Note: During the pandemic, bookstores have had to adjust their hours of operation. Be sure to call ahead before setting out.
Owner: Scott Fennessey
Blue Whale Books on the Downtown Mall, a used and rare bookstore, satisfies both the scholarly and the curious. Here you can buy ‘A Book for A Buck.’ You can also browse a large selection of scholarly books, with an emphasis on art, book arts, and architecture. What’s truly unique about the bookstore’s offerings though, is its selection of 10,000 original fine prints and antiquarian maps, some dating back to the 1600s.
“Maps and prints are a very unusual thing to have in the United States,” says owner Scott Fennessey. “You can find things in my store you can’t find anywhere else.”
Owner: Daphne Spain
If past is prologue, then Daphne Spain’s second act reads like a wonderful epilogue. After teaching at UVa for thirty years, Spain opened 2nd Act Books on the Downtown Mall one year ago. She was no stranger to the space, as she previously volunteered in its predecessor, the long-running Read It Again, Sam. When she had the opportunity to start her own bookstore, she didn’t hesitate. Visitors are welcomed by smiling faces, and can browse the shelves or help complete a large jigsaw puzzle, spread out on a table in the center of the store. Once complete, the puzzles end up on the Jigsaw Wall of Fame.
The large children’s and Young Adult section is a primary draw here.
“It’s so important to make sure our children read books at a young age,” Spain says. “And we offer those books in many languages, like Danish, Dutch, and Spanish. Buenos Noches Luna, we can’t keep it in stock.” When you visit, ask for Michele Allen, the in-store expert on children’s books.
And, if you have your mind set on finding a Harry Potter book in Vietnamese, 2nd Act Books is the place to go.
Owners: David Murray & Kate deNeveu
With close to 100,000 comic books, graphic novels, and art pieces in their collection, Telegraph Art & Comics awaits every comic book aficionado. Founded in 2013 by husband and wife David Murray and Kate deNeveu in downtown Charlottesville, the couple recently opened a second location in Seminole Square Shopping Center. (Note: the downtown location is temporarily closed during the pandemic.)
“In our downtown store, we mostly sell new and single issue comics,” Murray says. “The new location has a large collection of vintage comics.”
The compact downtown store also offers a large children’s book section. “Whatever your interest, or your age, there’s a comic book out there for you,” says deNeveu. “That’s definitely true for kids. Comic books for kids touch on subjects like kindness, friendship, good and bad. In that way, comic books can be very educational.”
Kate and David love and adore comics, they have their entire life, but initially they wanted to open an art gallery focused on comic book art. “But we soon realized more people were interested in the comic books than in the art.”
Telegraph Art & Comics offers a large collection of ‘zines’; independently published comic books by mostly local and relatively unknown artists. “Comic books are so much more than Superman, The Incredible Hulk, Batman and Spiderman,” say deNeveu. “The zines are unique pieces, hard to come by and not every bookstore will offer them.”
Owner: Paul Collinge
A block away from the hustle and bustle of The UVA Corner, Elliewood Avenue provides relative serenity in the busy historic district. After touring The Grounds and drinking or dining at one of The Corner’s many eateries, a stop at Heartwood Books to browse its large collection of used books is a perfect way to put a period on your collegetown day.
Heartwood Books opened on Elliewood Avenue in 1975. Founded by Paul Collinge, the store offers visitors the classics works of literature. Or, as Collinge puts it, “Books you should’ve read, but probably haven’t.”
It’s the store’s close proximity to the University that makes it stock up on the classics, Collinge continues. “Students always come back for classics like Hamlet, works by Emily Dickinson, or one of the many other classics,” he says. The store also offers scholarly books and writings about Virginia’s history or Jefferson’s Academical Village. “We have a wide range,” Collinge says as he wistfully surveys his shelves. “You can absolutely come here for a mystery novel, or a great cookbook. But I have to say that Faulkner sells faster than Grisham.”
Most of his patrons have a connection to the University in some way. Be it parents visiting the campus, alumni in town for the weekend, students or visiting academics, they all know where to find Heartwood Books, Collinge said. “To be honest, most townsfolk stay away from The Corner because it’s so busy.”
A dedicated bibliophile, Collinge is co-founder of the Virginia Festival of the Book, one of the largest events of the year in Charlottesville and a cherished literary tradition now in its 26th year.
Owner: Sandy McAdams
In 2016 The New Yorker illustrator and cartoonist, Bob Eckstein, pegged Daedalus Bookshop as one of the best in his Footnotes from the World’s Greatest Bookstores. After one visit, you’ll know why.
Visitors will find used books from floor to ceiling, in a labyrinth of alcoves, corridors, and small rooms, spread out over three floors in a building that, according to owner Sandy McAdams, is at least a century old. “We have a lot of books,” he says. “And by a lot, I mean around 100,000 titles.”
McAdams opened the store in 1975, when he was getting bored with his graduate studies in New York City. “On my way to school I would pass two bookstores,” he recalled. “I was more interested in those bookstores than I was in my studies.”
He packed up what he owned, traveled south, settled in Charlottesville, and bought the building that once housed a barber shop and a private detective’s office.
In 2001, McAdams was diagnosed with MS and is now confined to a motorized wheelchair. Still, on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, McAdams is where he’s been for the past 45 years, making Daedalus Bookshop one of the longest running businesses on the Downtown Mall. When planning your visit, simply look for the sign that reads “Books.” You’re sure to find a treasure around every corner in this intimate space.
McAdams is also co-founder of C&O Restaurant, one of Charlottesville’s revered dining establishments, and in the mid-seventies started The Times of Charlottesville, an independent weekly newspaper that lasted for a couple of years.
Owner: Julia Kudravaetz
New Dominion Bookshop is the only bookstore selling NEW books on the historic Downtown Mall, and one of the very few in Charlottesville, that offers new books only. It’s also the oldest independent bookstore in Virginia; the store opened its doors in 1924 and has been in its current location since 1990. Combine that with a thoughtfully curated collection of books, and a visit to New Dominion Bookshop is worthwhile.
But there’s more than meets the eye, in the store that’s open 7 days a week.
“We offer not only retail, but we try to build a sense of community,” owner Julia Kudravetz says, referring to the approximately 150 events the store puts on each year. “We invite renowned authors and local writers alike to our store for book signings and talks,” Kudravetz continues. “We also have a book club or specific reading events for children throughout the year. In doing so, we try to offer a social experience for our visitors as well.”
Most of the literary events throughout the year are free of charge. When planning a visit, we recommend keeping an eye on their events calendar. For some of the events, the bookshop partners with the Paramount Theater, offering both speakers and the audience a bigger venue.
Because Kudravetz and her team work with so many authors, the store usually has signed copies available. Best-selling author and local resident John Grisham often visits the store when he has a new book out.
And there’s still more than meets the eye. Behind the oldest bookstore in Virginia, you might find Charlottesville’s best kept secret: a hidden rose garden that blooms every spring. It’s a natural sanctuary where visitors can relax and read, away from the hustle and bustle of the busy Downtown Mall.
“We even had some weddings in our rose garden,” Kudravetz says.
When planning a visit to Charlottesville in the spring, what could be better than reading your favorite book in your own secret garden.