At CI10, ABA is hosting a tour of three of Phoenix’s eclectic indies: Changing Hands Bookstore, Palabras Bilingual Bookstore, and Grassrootz Books and Juice Bar. “One unique thing about Phoenix is its combination of historic Wild West and new young city,” says Changing Hands co-owner Cindy Dach. “We have amazing Indigenous writers and storytelling communities.”

Founded in 1974 in Tempe, Ariz., Changing Hands opened a 6,000-square-foot outpost in Phoenix in 2014, complete with a First Draft Book Bar, stocked with coffee, beer, wine, and small bites. The Phoenix store has a jam-packed children’s section that has been expanded a few times, Dach says. Right now the store is busy restarting in-person middle grade and YA author events. Dach stocks many kids’ books by Arizona authors, including the Unwanted Quests series by Tempe’s Lisa McMann. Cactus series author Dusti Bowling, Flora series author Molly Idle, and Dinotrux creator Chris Gall all live nearby.

Rosaura “Chawa” Magaña opened Palabras in 2015 after visiting artist Pablo Helguera’s Librería Donceles, a traveling Spanish-language bookstore/exhibition named after a street of used bookstores in Mexico City. “You filled out a questionnaire and they gave you a book,” Magaña says. At the time, she was astonished that Helguera’s installation was not an actual U.S. shop, and her bookstore plan was born.

Palabras is one of several community businesses in Nurture House, a 3,000-square-foot space that includes Diné publisher Amber McCrary’s Abalone Mountain Press, Charissa Lucille’s DIY studio Wasted Ink Zine Distro, Latinx pastry provider Por Vida Bakery, and risograph printing shop Pachanga Press. Vegetables from Nurture House’s garden supply south Phoenix’s Community Resource Exchange.

Magaña stocks as many bilingual titles as possible. She supports tiny indies like Cardboard House Press, which finds unpublished works from Latin American poets and translates them in-house. For young readers, she recommends the activity book Coloring Without Borders, with proceeds benefiting Families Belong Together; board books from Lil’ Libros; and picture books including Mariana Llanos and Mariana Ruiz Johnson’s Run Little Chaski! An Inka Trail Adventure.

Much like Palabras, Grassrootz grew out of a social justice vision and was unofficially founded in 2019. “We were operating out of a hallway then,” says co-owner Ali Nervis. The 1,200-square-foot multiuse space includes books and art, a coworking area, and a kitchen. The store hosts a bimonthly marketplace, Archwood Exchange; sells bottled juice from Add Moor Beverage Company; and stocks honey from the Black beekeepers of BaeHive Sisterhood. An outdoor mural depicts Audre Lorde, Toni Morrison, and Alice Walker.

“As far as we know, we are the only Black-owned bookstore in Arizona,” Nervis says. “We’re not the first, there have been others, but we are the only physical [space].” Grassrootz seeks out partnerships with local ventures like DG Self-Publishing, founded by author Shamirrah Hill (The Shy Monster). Tomi Adeyemi’s Children of Blood and Bone and other Afrofuturist novels are popular at Grassrootz, especially now that SFF writer Nnedi Okorafor lives in Phoenix.

Beyond Phoenix

At Scottsdale’s Kidstop Toys and Books, owner Kate Tanner calls staffers “toy experts” and customers “toy testers.” She opened the store after visiting Creative Kidstuff in Minnesota’s Twin Cities, when she was working as a regional sales rep for a school-supply company. Tanner and her staff create book displays, or “vignettes,” throughout the store by pairing science books with experiment kits or prank books with magic-themed toys.

Though Tanner says that Kidstop’s biggest category is active toys for outdoor play, she also does a brisk business in board books, picture books, and the 39 Clues series. She stocks everything from the “tried and true,” such as Kobi Yamada’s What Do You Do with an Idea? and Amy Krause Rosenthal’s Uni the Unicorn, to books by locals like Tiny Ninjas author Sasha Graham (Whitney Wins Everything) and family advice writer Amy Carney (Parent on Purpose).

South of Phoenix, Tucson’s Barrio Books focuses on bilingual titles, children’s and YA selections, and Latinx authors. Owner Syrena Arevalo operates the store in a converted boarding space in the Hotel McCoy, a vacation stopover located in a predominantly Hispanic and Native neighborhood. She names Yuyi Morales’s Bright Star and local author Roni K. Ashford’s My Nana’s Remedies/Los remedios di mi nana as bookstore favorites, and customers also find a selection of old-fashioned Mexican tops and toys. Close by Barrio Books is a children’s bookstore called The Littlest Bookshop, which Hypatia Luna and her husband, Jesse Adcock, opened on January 1.

To the north of Phoenix—and at a higher, potentially cooler, elevation—Bright Side Books serves the Flagstaff area. Co-owner Lisa Lamberson touts partnerships with literacy organizations and the Grand Canyon Conservancy, along with regional author events like a release party for Annette McGivney’s Pure Land, which recounts a murder on the Havasupai reservation. The store attracts an outdoorsy clientele, Lamberson says, and she handsells Kevin Fedarko’s The Emerald Mile, about boating down the flooded Colorado River. Flagstaff’s own Annie Watson (Is 2 a Lot?) and Linda Kranz (Only One You) are kids’ bestsellers, as are informational books on Native culture.

Clarkdale is home to Stardust Books, owned by Joy Rhodes. Set in a former bank, Stardust features kids’ books and summer storytimes, a “book vault” of mysteries and thrillers, and a bakery/artisan popup called Copper Cactus Coffee & Gifts. Rhodes says she designed her business in support of community ventures, and cottage laws allow Copper Cactus to serve local goods: “It’s a one-stop shop kind of space.”

In Prescott, Peregrine Book Co., cofounded by novelist Michaela Carter (Leonora in the Morning Light), is celebrating its 10th anniversary. Store manager David Coupaud handsells local YA horror writer Amy Lukavics, nature writer and “cowboy” Amy M. Hale (published as Amy Hale Auker), and science fiction author Alan Dean Foster. “We’ve got an ample children’s section,” says Coupaud, describing a recent partnership with some of Prescott’s young writers. “We lent Skyview Elementary Schools’ second grade class the books on display, and they returned them with one-page reviews on why someone should buy that book. The kids loved this opportunity, and we hope we can keep something like this going.”

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