Why do most used book and CD stores smell nasty?

My wife and I were walking to a farmer’s market yesterday and passed a CD store specializing in used discs. The door was open, and even across the sidewalk we could smell the musty air pooled in front of the store. My wife turned to me and asked why every used CD store reeked.

As soon as she said it, I realized that matched my experience – almost every used CD or book store smells strongly of must and mold. I’d always associated the smell specifically with used book stores*, but CD stores have it too.

It’s not a smell I associate with stores that sell new books or CDs, so it can’t only be a matter of what they sell.

My guess: profit margins on used media are slim, which means that those stores tend to be located in cheap, old buildings that tend to smell musty. And they rarely run air conditioning, again because of the expense, which doesn’t help. Basically, it’s expensive not to reek, and used media merchants don’t have the cash to invest in fresh air.

Am I right? Are there other forces at work? Are our perceptions skewed – are stinky used book and CD stores the exception?

*“Used bookstore” sounds like the store was used, but Google has a few thousand more hits for that than for “used book store.” Ah, usage.

Wouldn’t you suppose it’s because old books smell? When you go to someone’s house and smell their books, they probably smell like the things they cook and smoke in that house. You wouldn’t notice how your books smell because they smell like the rest of your house. Used book stores are full of books that have been in storage or have sat in someone’s house absorbing smells for years. If you put it all together, it will smell bad. The Salvation Army store always stinks too. They use a lot of deodorizer and things, but that makes it smell even worse.

I love the Old-Bookstore Smell! Makes me think of . . . umm, old books!

Yeah, that’s a good smell to me.

Ask a Scientist - Old Book Smell

Old Bookstore smell is one of the best odors I know.

Another one who loves that smell…if I was rich, that’d be my job, running an old bookstore. I’d open at odd hours, glower at people, make things smell funny, so no one would actually buy a book*.

Come to think of it, maybe that’s what they already do.

*Shamlessly stolen from a Pratchett book.

For several years I worked in a used book store. The store is now closed, but the odor of book mold seeped into my clothing, and even after numerous washings, some of my clothes still have a faint scent of old books. For me, it’s a good, nostalgic smell.

These are all good answers, but they don’t explain why the same smell comes from stores that sell used CDs.

Although I realized that the store we passed yesterday probably sells old vinyl albums, as well, with their cardboard sleeves. I imagine the same funky chemistry is at work with album covers as with books.

Finally, while I don’t love old book smell, I don’t mind it. Some stores truly reek of it, though, and almost any smell gets oppressive when it’s turned up to 11.

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These are all good answers, but they don’t explain why the same smell comes from stores that sell used CDs.
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Grubby buildings.

I’ve always referred to the source of that smell as “mummy dust.”

I’ve always thought that used CD stores smell way worse than used bookstores. They smell different to me. CD stores just reek, I don’t know why. Bookstores smell like musty old books–mostly good, but then the owner might not clean well, which makes it bad. One local used bookstore here has hideous festoons of dusty cobwebs over all the shelves; it does not help. He charges enough for the books, you’d think he could run a broom around every once in a while.

Of course if it’s a comic-book store, that smell is your fellow patrons, not the books.

*vinegar *from non-acid-free paper

People keep the good CDs. They only sell off the ones that stink.

The only time the smell in a book store bothered me was in a new book store. When Barnes & Noble opened a branch in Amherst, NY they installed hundreds of feet of shelving - all newly finished. The building had basically no ventilation except the front door. A year later and you could still smell the chemicals when you entered the store.

I just noticed that, for whatever reason, I called bookstore smell “nasty,” rather than funky. Mental glitch.

That explains the defensiveness in some earlier posts…

Years ago I boxed up a bunch of my parents old paperbacks, and some of mine, and took them to a local used book store to sell for credit. The proprietor bought only two of mine that were fairly new and nothing else. When I asked why, she held one of the older books up to my nose and asked if I smelled that. Though I didn’t smell anything in particular, I said yes, and she said that, if she put these books on her shelves, within a month every book in the place would smell like mine did. I still have those old books.

I remember that store, but it was more the smell of offgassing from new carpets and laminates than books. Unlike the chains, the two Talking Leaves stores in Buffalo have a distinctive new book smell, but it’s more of a sharp scent than the warmer musty old book aroma.

Whenever I’ve been in a used record store, incense was always burning somewhere. I’ve also never encountered a used record store that didn’t sell incense. Maybe that’s what the OP is smelling?

I agree. If there were “Old Bookstore Scented Candles” I’d buy and burn them.