America's Westernmost Used Bookstore That Almost Wasn't? - OZY | A Modern Media Company

America's Westernmost Used Bookstore That Almost Wasn't?

America's Westernmost Used Bookstore That Almost Wasn't?

By Lauren Cocking


Hawaii, pre-loved books and a celeb bookstore cat. Need we say more?

By Lauren Cocking

Talk Story Bookstore in Hanapepe, Kauai, could so easily not have been. If it were not for the auspicious appearance of a double rainbow, convincing the now owners to pay rent on the bookstore premises instead of their flat, we wouldn’t have a story to tell.

It wasn’t exactly the first time that Ed and Cynthia Lynn Justus took a gamble that paid off though — they originally arrived in Hawaii on honeymoon and simply … never left. And now they’re the proud proprietors of a bookstore with bragging rights for those who make the journey. Why? Talk Story — which specializes in everything and nothing — is the U.S.’ westernmost independent bookstore.

Talk Story’s world-famous bookstore cat, Celeste — aka The Boss — takes center stage

That’s not its only intriguing “western” touch either. Despite being built in 1930 on a Hawaiian island, the building does look more like a Wild West watering hole than a bookstore. While the connection to the period is tenuous at best — Ed’s explanation gives the impression that Talk Story is like a cousin twice removed from the real Old West — it certainly fits with what patron Stacy Brooks describes as Hanapepe’s already “kind of rugged, Wild West cowboy vibe.” Authentic it ain’t, but it certainly adds “character,” Ed says. 

Also adding character? Talk Story’s world-famous bookstore cat, Celeste — aka The Boss — takes center stage. Not only was she the subject of her own YouTube interview (see below), she even out-cutes Hanapepe’s other most famous residents, Lilo and Stitch.

The inventory wasn’t always — and, to an extent, still isn’t — limited to just books, something toward which the store’s former name, Talk Story: Books, Coffee & Curiosities, nods. Originally stocking everything from used paperbacks donated by Kauai residents to the odds and ends the Justuses found at yard sales, the store now carries mostly books. But in the spirit of making the store’s offering “as diverse as possible,” Ed explains, they’ve recently expanded into the fickle world of vintage vinyl records and comics. 


As for books? They’ve got plenty — around 150,000 at last count. That’s certainly some increase on the “couple of thousand used books” Ed says they were selling on eBay — the OG Justus hustle that, after the opportunity arose to rent out a retail space, blossomed into Talk Story back in 2004. Nowadays, you’ll still find some of their rarer books online (the opportunity to reach “7 billion potential customers” on Amazon is hard to argue with, Ed explains).

“There is something that folks really enjoy about the exploration and discovery of shopping at a brick-and-mortar bookstore … those unexpected finds you didn’t know you were looking for,” Ed says. And beyond unplanned-for titles, you might even find yourself leaving Talk Story with an unusual new hobby — the owners also coordinate ukulele and Hawaiian slack key classes. 

Sorry, East Coast: When it comes to quirky bookstores, west(ernmost) truly is best.  


  • Location: 3785 Hanapepe Road, Hanapepe, Hawaii, 96716. Map
  • Hours: Saturday to Thursday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Fridays 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. 
  • Pro tip: Stay there late on a Friday to enjoy the weekly entertainment, food and music that line the streets of Old Town Hanapepe.

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