The "Dusty Used Bookstore" Appreciation Thread

I am addicted to, and just spent about $100 this week alone on bizarre old tomes I couldn’t have found elsewhere. But my heart is still in the Mom-and-Pop used-book shop—you know, the fast-vanishing kinds with piles of dusty books heaped up on shelves that look like they’ll collapse any minute? Priceless finds stacked on the floor by the radiator? That great “old book smell?”

There are still a few of these shops left in NYC—fewer and fewer each year. The town I live in has one, locally known as The Cranky Old Man Book Shop, for obvious reasons. This weekend a friend visited and we descended on the place. I got:

• A 1942 copy of Mrs. Miniver, complete with Greer Garson dust jacket
• A trashy 1932 Hollywood novel promisingly titled Glittering Sham
• An illustrated 1866 edition of Douglas Jerrold’s 1840s humorous essay book, Mrs. Caudle’s Curtain Lectures

And all for twenty bucks! Any Dopers wish to share Old Book Shop memories and fabulous finds?

As you know, any “Dusty Used Bookstore” must have at least one cat that lives in it, sits on the desk, and provides the faint aroma of cat urine in the occasional corner. Where else am I gonna get my guilty pleasure mystery trade paperbacks for a few measly clams?

I, too, love old bookshops, and lament their passing. There used to be tons of these in Harvard Square, and they’re almost all gone. More recently, Salem, Massachusetts has lost The Black Dog and The Tangled Web (new mysteries and old used books. And they had two delightful Bookstore Cats). The used bookshops in Portsmouth, N.H. have been decimated.
My best all-time buy: A complete set of the Burton translation of the Alf Layla Wa Layla, better known as The Arabian Nights’ Entertainment. For those of you who think that this is a kid’s book, it runs eighteen volumes and is frequently extremely racy. There are those who don’t like Burton’s translation (read the intro to the Penguin edition), but I do, and his footnotes (which frequently take up more space on the page than the “clear” text) are priceless!
And the pages weren’t even completely cut! I’m the first person to read this edition!

I’ve found lots of the Patty books by Carolyn Wells, most at my favorite used book store. I’ve got one I go to regularly that’s near my house. We do have lots of Half-Price Books out here as well, and I do frequent them–but they just don’t have the same atmosphere.

Have you tried The Strand?
There was one north of Wall Street, south of Fulton (don’t know the street name but there’s a lane next to Abercombie & Fitch - go south 1 short blk.

Also one 2 blks south of 14th St. at Park Ave. S.

Mmmmm . . . dusty old used bookstores.

Too many treasure finds to recount, but my favorite old-book place was the cabin on my grandparents’ property in northern WI. It was a little shack with a bed and a woodstove, and was filled wall to wall and floor to ceiling with books, magazines, board games, puzzles, and I don’t remember what all else. When we visited up there, I used to escape the family nonsense and spend hours out there curled up on the bed with smuggled snackies and book after book after book . . . My aunt and uncle inherited the property, and the last time we visited, they let me and Mr. S take away as many books out of the cabin as we could carry. Ah, memories . . .

Well, the **Strand’**s the granddaddy of 'em all. You’re thinking of the one in the South Street Seaport. The main outpost is on Broadway and 12th Street, near Fourth Avenue, where all the great old bookshops used to live back in the good old days.

I particularly miss Academy Used Books on East 18th Street (bought a huge book of Otto Dix paintings there for about thirty bucks…the same volume was running between 200-300 dollars on all the ABEbooksearch stores). Academy Used Records and CDs is still there, which is a blessing.

I also miss Bleecker Books, on the corner of Bleecker and Perry in the West Village, which disappeared sometime last year.

And Kay’s Books on Prospect Avenue in Cleveland, which closed sometime around 1980; one of my teenage hangouts. Mrs. Kay, who sat up on a high stool near the front like the Town Clerk in The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, was easily the nastiest old bookseller I ever met.

I’m keeping my fingers crossed for Mercer Books, also in the Village, around the corner from the Angelika Cinema, and Montague Books in Brooklyn Heights, two lovely places owned by the same people, which still seem to be hanging on prety well.

San Francisco has lots of great stores still, but fewer and fewer. A lot of them have become aware of the value of things, so it’s less likely I can find a real deal.

My mother lives a few hours north, in a small town. The store (which might just be called “Second Hand”) buys up lots from estate sales - many retired people up there. I have found some great deals - first editions of The Saint series and lots of old mysteries. They also have records - real vinyl - that I can’t resist, even tho’ I don’t have a turntable :confused:

The way things smell is the best part - makes me want to settle in for hours!

There used to be quite a few bookstores like this here in Charleston, but they too are going the way of the dinosaur.

I did manage to find a particularly old, dusty copy of the works of Edgar Allan Poe in one shop. The leather was kind of funky, but nothing that couldn’t be taken care of, and it looked to be in good condition. $25? Are these people crazy? Oh, wait. About 40 to 50 pages missing, in various parts of the book. :frowning:

Ah—remember James Carr’s, in the East 80s in New York? It was actually in an old 19th-centry barn, behind the main building! Bliss. It’s been gone for at least ten years. My two favorite NYC shops are Gotham Book Mart on 47th Street and Argosy on 59th.

The one I still dream about wasn’t really a store . . . I was doing summer stock in upstate NY back in '81, and our costume shop was the town library’s attic. The walls were lined with books, floor-to-ceiling—all the old books taken off the shelves because no one was interested in them anymore. The library let us “take them off their hands” for 25 cents apiece!! We each staggered away with a bagful of 19th- and early 20th-century novels, textbooks, histories . . . Bliss.

An afternoon spent in the bookshops on Charing Cross Road is an afternoon well spent. They’re the archetypal musty bookshops. The smell is my favourite thing. That old books smell. Books that have been out of print for years, with titles like “The Borrowed Leg And It’s Relevance in Modern Marriage”. Shelves and shelves filled and packed so tightly it’s hard to avoid overly-intimate encounters with fellow patrons.

If only Anthony Hopkins would pop in more regularly.

There’s still a pretty good one in Marquette, MI that I visit occasionally (in fact, I’m going up at the beginning of next month–I plan on looting it): Snowbound Books. For such a backwards place, the Upper Peninsula sure seems to have a hell of a lot of science fiction fans. The used scifi book section is rather enormous. Plus the place is very, very cool looking. It’s built in what looks like the first floor of an old house (on the side of a steep hill a few blocks away from the Lake) and the bookshelves are floor to ceiling, jammed. The top shelf is certainly higher than I can reach and I’m not that short.

The prices are great. A couple of trips back I picked up the entire series of Gene Wolfe’s Book of the New Sun for under twenty bucks total, trade paperback, perfect condition.

brondicon beat me to the cat thing in the very first response. Here in Seattle, it ain’t a used bookstore if it doesn’t have a cat or four.

Seattle’s best-known used bookstore is Twice Sold Tales, with the biggest branch on Capitol Hill and two others elsewhere. The big branch is open all night on Friday for insomniac browsers, and it’s got half a dozen cats (or more, possibly) plus overhead ramps and runners between the tops of the shelves. Nice place, even if the owner is on the eccentric and prickly side.

The Cranky Old Man shop doesn’t have a cat, but it does have a huge, friendly dog named Dixie. The dog is a damn sight friendlier than the owner, in fact . . .

I was on the Ithaca Commons last weekend. There are two new used book shops there (new within the last five years since I moved out of town, anyway). They are both clean and well lit, with wide aisles – and no damn books! I was so depressed I made sure to stop at Phoenix Books on my way out of town, where I picked up a Jeeves omnibus big enough to stop bullets for $5.


Eve, if you ever wander north of the city, you should see if Manny’s is still open in New Paltz. Manny had an interesting, and fortunately unique, method of sorting his inventory: he put it on the shelf. You’d enter his store and find row after row of used books in no apparent order. Browsing wasn’t an option at Manny’s, it was a requirement.

Personally, I’ve always wanted to make a pilgrimage to Archer City, Texas (author Larry McMurtry’s hometown). McMurty decided to help his hometown specialize in the sale of used books and is the owner of several used book stores in that town. Archer City, with 2000 residents and 350000 books, may have the highest used book to potential reader of any town in the country.

“Archer City, with 2000 residents and 350000 books, may have the highest used book to potential reader of any town in the country.”

—You’ve obviously never seen my apartment . . .

**The Curious Bookshop **, on MIchigan Avenue in East Lansing Michigan, was a place I adored while I lived in that town. Not a lot of paperbacks, except in the sci-fi section.

Chicago residents probably know **Powells. ** Back in 1983-84, when I went to school in Chicago, the store was within walking distance for me. They had a cat, a gray longhaired Persian that slept in the window display, named Lady Jane.

The most curious thing about the few scattered, musty little used bookshops in back-bayou Louisiana is that they always seem to have exactly what you’re looking for. I spent years searching libraries and bookfinder services (this was before the web) for the sequel to my favorite novel, only to have it turn up in The Book Bug, a shabby, cat-laden little shop no more than 15 miles from my home. The owner, an eccentric little old lady who later taught me to read runes,had no idea where it had come from. It had been sitting there long enough to gather a thick covering of dust. I sat down, right there on the floor, and stared at it until she came over and said, “It’s been waiting for you, you know. It’s never even been read.”

I love used book stores.

Murfreesboro, TN is losing P.H. Duck’s Bookstore. No explaination for the name.
The owner is ill, & will sell or close by July.

Lots of cats. Also gerbils, & sometimes birds.
Used to carry comics & wargames, too.

Odd old cinderblock/corrugated iron building, dating back to WWI.