Best Book Store (Independent)

Subterranean Books

Sometimes you don't realize what you have until you're in danger of losing it forever. Last January Subterranean Books' owner Kelly von Plonski announced on the store's Facebook feed that if business didn't improve, she would be forced to close her doors. The news shocked and saddened a certain class of St. Louis book-buyer, the sort that values the experience of going into a bookstore and, after a conversation with the person behind the counter, coming out with something new and unexpected and guaranteed to knock their socks off. The booksellers at Left Bank Books and Pudd'nhead Books, St. Louis' other two general-interest indie stores, do this, too, but Subterranean's readers have certain needs the other stores don't quite fill: beat novels, music criticism, obscure works on design and psychology. So they rallied and went back to Subterranean in force. In June, von Plonski announced that the store could afford to stay open. The near-death experience has rejuvenated Subterranean: Now its calendar is filled with regular readings, writing groups and special events, like a night to honor the late novelist David Foster Wallace. This is what makes an independent bookstore great. It's not just a place to buy books; it's a place for like-minded readers to gather. St. Louis is lucky Subterranean and its readers figured that out before it was too late.

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