So, there are four well-known independent bookstores in the Salt Lake Valley: Frost's, The King's English, Sam Weller's, and Ken Sanders' (formerly known as Cosmic Airplane).
Now, in spite of my being an English teacher, I'm no book snob. I get my books wherever I can. Most come from the public library, but I will download free e-books off Amazon (although most of those are terrible), buy from Amazon, go to The King's English for local authors, go to Frost's for overstock items and YA fiction, and scour the DI (that's Deseret Industries, the LDS church's exceptionally well-run thrift store) for used books. But I had never been to either Sam Weller's or Ken Sanders' stores -- until this month.
So, last week, I went to visit Sam Weller's book store. It's in Trolley Square now, which used to be my favorite mall -- way back in the day when people actually went to malls -- so I thought it would be fun to have a look around.
It wasn't particularly fun.
The store was lovely and airy, but it was huge and commercial-looking. It might as well have been Barnes and Noble or Deseret Book. And the prices on the used books were very high, no doubt to help pay the high rent at the mall. Oh, and the staff was cold and a bit condescending. (Why was I bothering them with questions? They were above that sort of thing.)
I prefer bookstores where you can talk to people. Richard Frost, for example, speaks personally to every customer who enters his store; he remembers repeat customers, and he always has suggestions. The folks at The King's English are also helpful and conversant. I like that.
If I want a sterile experience where the employees are only there to accept my money, then I'll shop at Amazon. It's more convenient anyway.
But Ken Sanders' place was what a used book store should be.
First of all, it was so jammed with books that I had a hard time maneuvering around a larger man in one aisle. There were books stacked on the stairs, books on shelves which balanced precariously on top of other shelves, books on the floor, and rare books locked in antique and dusty cabinets. During an earthquake, everyone in the shop would be buried alive. And I truly wonder how this store owner meets fire code.
It was beautiful. :)
(Remember to click on photos to enlarge them.)
A true descendant of the store's counter-culture past was the clerk. She was about my age, with completely grey hair, too-bright lipstick, a heavy velour skirt, and a printed tee shirt that did not match the skirt. She was perfectly funky, wonderfully friendly, and she knew her stuff about books. (She even gave me the teachers' discount!)
I bought Alison Weir's Mary, Queen of Scots, a book about the Black Death, and 1603 by Christopher Lee, all used. But I could've spent a fortune and a week in that store!
So, if you are a real bibliophile, if you enjoy caves of books, if you get a little high off the smells of decaying paper and old leather and glue, if you love history, if you're still a hippie, if you like museums, or if you just want a really funky bookstore, this place is for you!