If you’re like us, you’ve probably found yourself video conferencing a lot lately—with everyone from grandparents to colleagues to students. At UNC Wilmington, home to Lookout Books, we’ve been gathering in virtual classrooms for the past five weeks now, and as both publishers and teachers of publishing arts, we’ve become increasingly aware of privacy concerns when we virtually invite others into our homes. Maybe joining your latest meeting from a faraway beach or outer space elicited a much-needed chuckle (we hope so!), but for us and for many of our students, background images can be more than a joke or a momentary vacation. They can offer an essential layer of privacy and help maintain confidentiality around disparities in living situations.
We also know we’re not alone in missing the community that bookstores provide—being able to step inside and immediately surround ourselves with books and fellow book lovers. So we reached out to some beloved indie shops that graciously came through with these beautiful, inspiring (free!) backgrounds, available in high-resolution by clicking the thumbnail images below. Whether the next few weeks and months find you virtually attending or teaching classes, joining a book-club conversation, chatting with Grandma, or sitting through your hundredth Zoom meeting, we hope that these images will lift your spirits.
Until we’re able to gather again for readings, book clubs, and of course shopping, please visit these bookstores’ respective websites for ways to help sustain them through this difficult time. Many indies continue to host virtual story time for kids, readings, and book launches. They fill orders from behind closed storefronts and work twice as hard for a fraction of the income. They’re serving their communities—those of us who know just how essential books are. We recommend purchasing books from them online or curbside (if they’re offering that option), buying a gift card, or making a donation.
Books Are Magic
Opened in 2017 by Emma Straub and Michael Fusco-Straub, Books Are Magic is home to new releases and beloved classics, hidey-holes for children and books to read in them, gumballs filled with poetry, events almost every night of the week and story times on the weekends, and yes, plenty of magic. Haven’t managed to take a selfie in front of their iconic mural? Here’s your chance! Thanks to Michael Chin for this photo.
Brazos Bookstore opened in 1974 to encourage the growth and development of the Houston literary scene. It continues to be a hub for creative and engaged readers in Houston and is now owned by a group of twenty-seven Houstonians who purchased the bookstore when the original owner retired. Many thanks to the Brazos team for this photo.
Driftless Books & Music
Driftless Books & Music has called Wisconsin’s Viroqua Tobacco Warehouse home since 2009, stocking their shelves over the years with half a million rare, antiquated, used, and new books purchased from the inventories of a warehouse and seven bookstores in five different states. Also boasting collections of records, sheet music, art, and a wall of iconic beer cans; Driftless hosts local and regional bands, poetry jams, author readings, and other events in their community performance space. Later this month, Driftless will host Bookstock: Two Days of Peace, Indie Bookstores, and Music, a series of streamed performances by musicians in indie bookstores across the country. Thanks to owner Eddy Nix for this photo.
Epilogue Books Chocolate Brews
Epilogue Books Chocolate Brews is a bookstore and Spanish-style chocolatería owned and operated by Chapel Hill locals Miranda and Jaime Sanchez, who wholeheartedly believe that the communal experience is cultivated by the sharing of food, drink, culture, and story. At their shop in the heart of downtown, patrons can browse books while enjoying craft brews, a glass of wine, or churros and a cup of chocolate. During quarantine, Epilogue has been working with other local retailers to ship goodie boxes that include chocolate, coffee, and artwork. “We’re been sending those boxes all the way to California and Washington with little notes,” Jaime said in an interview with NBC. “The love for one another has no borders. Through this experience, we’ve seen that the sense of community goes beyond all that. . . . I’ve never felt the community let us go at it ourselves, which we’re so grateful for.” Thanks to Mason Hamberlin, beloved alum of UNCW’s publishing program, for connecting us and supplying this photo by Miranda Sanchez.
Established in 2009, Greenlight Bookstore now offers two locations in Brooklyn, kiosks, and a spinoff stationery store; and they pop up throughout the city to support events. Community is at the heart of Greenlight. Both locations were funded through an innovative community lending program, in which locals invest in the stores in exchange for 30 percent off during the life of a five-year loan that Greenlight pays back with interest. With knowledgeable staff, curated book selections, community buy-in, and beautifully designed spaces that facilitate conversation and connection, Greenlight combines the best traditions of the neighborhood bookstore with a forward-looking sensibility. Many thanks to Matt Stowe and the Greenlight team for this photo.
Hub City Bookshop
Meg Reid, director of Hub City Press and an alumna of our publishing program, took this sumptuous photo of the revolutionary Hub City Bookshop, which opened in 2010 as an expansion of the award-winning independent press in Spartanburg, SC. Twice named one of the South’s Best Bookstores by Southern Living, the shop dedicates its proceeds to creative writing education and new publishing projects.
Main Street Books
Main Street Books has lived in the old general store on Main Street in Davidson, NC, since 1987. Their mission is to build a community of readers by feeding imaginations with books that act as windows and mirrors. This recent photo shows their shop windows covered in hundreds of hearts that readers, near and far, cut and delivered through their mail slot.
❤️🧡💛💚💙💜 Thanks to owner Adah Fitzgerald for supplying this photo—and for placing all of those hearts with such care.
Founded in 2004, McNally Jackson has long been one of New York’s destination bookstores and now offers readers multiple locations—spanning Brooklyn and Manhattan—to swoon over and browse. Their satellite stores include Goods for the Study, which specializes in desk accessories, from writing instruments to lamps, and a new arts-focused shop located in the lobby of the Shed arts center on Manhattan’s west side. Home to an international literature book club led by owner Sarah McNally, nearly nightly author events, and a selection of books befitting a store that “aspires to be the center of Manhattan’s literary culture,” McNally Jackson also stocks gorgeous stationery, collectible magazines, and great pens. We’re grateful for these photos © Yvonne Brooks.
Tattered Cover, founded in 1971, is a Denver institution, a community gathering place, an experience you can’t download (though setting this cozy fireplace as your Zoom background might help tide you over until they can safely reopen). A large indie bookstore and café, Tattered Cover offers the feel and comfort of smaller bookshops, furnishing its four locations with comfortable sofas and overstuffed chairs. Their events series brings in more than six hundred authors, illustrators, and public figures a year. Thanks to Kristen Gilligan and the Tattered Cover team for this photo.
Vroman’s and Book Soup
For many years, Vroman’s was the largest bookstore west of the Mississippi, and it remains the oldest and largest independent bookstore in Southern California. Famous for philanthropy, activism, and world class author visits, Vroman’s hosts more than four hundred free community events a year—from launch parties to bake-offs, craft classes, and trivia nights.
In 2009, Vroman’s bought beloved independent bookstore Book Soup in West Hollywood, after its founding owner, Glenn Goldman, died and the store was in danger of closing. Located on the world-famous Sunset Strip in West Hollywood, Book Soup is guarded over by two golden dogs and has been serving readers, writers, artists, rock ’n’ rollers, and celebrities since 1975. Many thanks to promotional director Jennifer Ramos for providing these photos by Russell Gearhart.
White Whale Bookstore
White Whale Bookstore began as a pop-up bookstall in 2011 and has grown into a welcoming, beautifully curated Pittsburgh bookstore that connects books with book lovers. It’s also the hometown bookstore of Lookout’s own Clare Beams, which is how we first found and fell in love with it. Many thanks to co-owner Jill Yeomans for this photograph, which stars some of our favorite books.
We’ve added more!
Thanks to these bookstores for joining our initiative.
Established in November 2019 in the East Village, Book Club is a new kind of independent bookstore, featuring locally roasted coffee, New York state beer and wine, a curated book inventory, and cozy decor. Many thanks to owner Erin Neary for supplying this photo by Lisa Balzofiore Photography.
Poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Peter D. Martin founded City Lights, a world-famous independent bookstore in San Francisco, in 1953. Book lovers come to browse, read, and soak in the ambiance of alternative culture’s “Literary Landmark” and the legacy of the Beats. Bring Lawrence Ferlinghetti along to your next virtual meeting, or enjoy the ambiance of City Lights’ extensive selection of poetry and Beat literature from the City Lights Poetry Room. Many thanks to Stacey Lewis for these photos.
Green Apple Books, established in 1967, offers three locations across San Francisco, and an extensive inventory of more than 250,000 new and used books, as well as LPs and more than 750 magazines and journals. Thanks to co-owner Pete Mulvihill for supplying this photo by Chloe Jackman. Green Apple led the Zoom-background trend, and you can find plenty more of their virtual backgrounds here.
Folio Books is an all-ages, independent bookstore in the Noe Valley neighborhood of San Francisco. Focused on providing tangible books to the neighborhood, Folio Books also hosts local author events, a young readers book club, and a community speaker series. Many thanks to Claudia Brancart for supplying this photo by Folio Books co-owner Paula Foley.
Moon Lane Ink is a non-profit, multi award-winning independent bookshop group in England. They’re dedicated to raising equality of access, representation, and roles in the industry for children’s books. The nonprofit grew out of London’s Tales of Moon Lane bookstore, established in 2003, and now also includes Moon Lane Children’s Books & Toys in Ramsgate and Moon Lane Books in London. Many thanks to Nicci Rosengarten for providing these photos by Marcus Harvey and the Moon Lane team for helping us expand our offering of backgrounds for kids!
Located in Reading, Massachusetts, Whitelam Books is committed to making this world a better place, now and for future generations, by promoting the value of and pleasure in reading, while supporting efforts that enrich life in the community. Many thanks to owner Liz Whitelam for supplying this photo.
Not sure how to change your background? Check out Good Morning America’s step-by-step tutorial for Zoom users.
Background showing up backwards? Not to worry—folks in your meeting should see it the correct way. Zoom mirrors your camera by default, but you can adjust this by clicking the arrow next to “stop video” and under “video settings” unchecking “mirror my video.”
All backgrounds are published here and offered free for download with permission of their respective bookstores and/or photographers.
If you’re a bookstore interested in helping us expand this list, please email email@example.com. We’d love to add you!