Monday, August 11, 2014

Adventure In A Used Book Store

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.  :)

 Here's a reading area, complete with a 40+-year-old vintage doll house to amuse young children whose parents are reading.  You can see the main aisles behind the sofa.  There are about 8 aisles, all stuffed and most double-layered with books, both new and used.  Each row goes back about 30 feet, and then there's another odd little crammed closet of more books at the end of each of the two main sections.
(Remember to click on photos to enlarge them.)

Here's one corner near the front.  Just look at the piles of reading material!  Notice the vintage posters?  Around the corner is a nook with thousands of vintage post cards, all organized and filed, for sale.  Wow.  I could spent hours just there.

On the left here, you can see the little nook with the postcards, a chair in front of it for totally absorbed browsers.  In the middle is the tunnel-like entrance, so filled with books that there's barely a space in which to walk.  On the right is the stairway -- which must be the stairway to heaven because it is so lined with books that it would be tricky to traverse it -- and the cashier's counter.

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!


  1. This sounds like my kind of place. We have a couple like this around town too. You'd especially enjoy Wild Rumpus, where I know you've commented on their amazing canoe that looks down on readers from what appears to be a break in the clouds or is it a break in an icy lake?! You and I have the same idea for a sensational book store, but even more important are the people (enjoying what they do) while they're ready to serve and often entertain as well.

    1. Wild Rumpus is most certainly a great name. :)