On the Hunt for a Great Bookstore

Having moved in the last year, I have discovered that the worst thing about moving (even beyond the how many boxes does it take to contain my entire house, why do we have some much stuff?! nightmare) is finding new places to shop and eat.  When I was growing up in St. George, UT my mother would take me to Doc’s Bookloft, this incredibly wonderful used book store located in a 100 year old pioneer home.  The walls are 12 inches thick and they have built bookcases everywhere, and I mean everywhere.  Each turn in the house was a new adventure as different collections were discovered.  I would get distracted going up the steep, narrow stairs, pausing to look at a book on the bookcase on the landing, unwittingly causing a traffic jam.  The sci-fi room had books stored in the closet and the romance room was so full you had to sit on one of the comfy armchairs to peer around it and see what books were on the shelves behind the chair.  My mother usually had to forcibly drag me out of the store because I wanted to “look at just one more book, I promise, just one more please!”

After moving to Salt Lake City, I had to go search out a new used bookstore.  Having grown up with the great Doc’s I was SOOO disappointed to discover that most of the used bookstores were very shoddily organized in seedy strip malls where all the owners seemed to smoke inside the building, permeating the books with the smell of cigarettes. (Is there some unwritten rule I don’t know about that decrees that most used book stores must smell like cigarettes?!) Finally, after living in Salt Lake for four years I was able find an acceptable used bookstore. I didn’t love it as it was in a strip mall without the charm and sense of adventure of Doc’s but at least it was smoke free.

I moved to Phoenix almost a year ago and the hunt for the used bookstore began.  I found two right away and was SOO excited to enter, one was even this great store with rare one-of-a-kind editions on the shelves but when I asked where the romance section was, I was sneered at. Well, good news, I have found a used bookstore that is great, it has a huge romance section, an impressive young adult section and…my favorite….a clearance section with some of my favorite authors for only a $1.00.  Halfprice Books has seen me three times in the last week alone so expect some new reviews as my TBR (to-be-read) stack just grew alot. It doesn’t have the charm of Doc’s but it does have books in a way I can find them so I am content.

This got me thinking about why I choose used bookstores over new bookstores most of the time. Obviously, the first consideration is price.  I go through books like they are water, so I am always happier when I can get three books for the price of one.  But beyond the money issue, I think part of the reason I like used bookstores is because you really don’t know what you are going to find.  When I go to a new large chain store there will be authors I am not familiar with but usually they are best sellers or books that some corporate office has decided to push, which is not necessarily the best book (not that I haven’t found some great books there and spent way too much money).  There is more a sense of adventure at a used bookstore, a feeling that you never are sure what is going to be on the shelves.  Will be a the latest NY Times Bestseller or will it be a book published twenty years ago by someone I have never heard of?

What do you think? Do you prefer one type of store over another?

4 Replies to “On the Hunt for a Great Bookstore”

  1. Oh my goodness… Doc’s Bookloft sounds amazing!! I would love to spend my day in such a store. There are several used bookstores where I live that I love to visit. And I do prefer a used bookstore over a new one for much the same reasons you listed in this post. Used bookstores also have a charm all their own with owners who usually know most of the books in their store and are willing to chat and help you find the perfect read. Glad you found Halfprice Books.

  2. I agree – my sense perk up whenever we are traveling somewhere and a used bookstore – or even a new but independent seller – appears. I look for treasures. I don’t have the patience to bargain shop for clothes, but I could fritter away hours poking through books looking for a real gem. I’m glad you found a nice spot near you. I’m still searching.

  3. I can’t remember the name but it is on 11th just North of 21st in Sugarhouse. It is one of the really old stores on the East side of the street. They have a pretty good selection and are willing to order books in for you.

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