As a lifelong bookworm, I am always on the lookout for a quality local bookstore, the kind where you can smell the generations who have thumbed through the pages of the treasures on the shelves. It’s a dusky smell, but not overpowering or unpleasant. It speaks of adventure, discovery, and imagination. It instantly transports you to the worlds of your youth – Narnia, secret gardens, a giant peach, Middle Earth, and the deliciously sinister calls of a raven.
Every bookstore I encounter, whether it sells new or used books, I immediately judge by this journey of the senses. For me, the ultimate holy grail resides in my hometown Portland, Oregon – Powell’s Used and New Books. The store itself takes up an entire city block in downtown Portland, and to ease navigation of the labyrinth of stairs and rooms, each room is color-coded. They even provide a handy map.
As a child, Dad would take us on weekend pilgrimages into town to spend the entire day lost in the stacks of Powell’s. My favorite room was the Gold Room – the floor space alone is the size of a typical Barnes and Noble – and I would lose myself in the history, travel, and culture sections. (I believe the travel section has since moved into the adjoining room.) Once we had loaded up our arms with a stack of books, we would retire to the bookstore’s cafe for coffee and to share our new treasures. To this day, whenever I’m visiting my parents, I hop onto the local light rail and find myself back in the midst of my personal reading mecca.
Now that I have settled in Appleton, Wisconsin, I am searching for a quality bookstore to quench my thirst for books. I had come to rely on Conkey’s, a bookstore located right on Appleton’s main drag College Avenue and open since 1896. While the selection was modest, the books were chosen with care, and I always left with a gem or two to add to my collection. Tragically, due to the economy, Conkey’s is in the process of closing its doors. On Friday I browsed the shelves for the last time, taking advantage of the 50% off clearance, but feeling guilty for doing so.
So without Conkey’s, what bookstore will fill its shoes and provide a counterbalance to the corporate commerciality and conformity of Barnes and Noble? Where will I be met with a whiff of ages of learning and discovery? I think I’ve found a candidate.
A couple months ago, my friend Natalie and I discovered a new bookstore in town, called Half Price Books, located on Casaloma Drive out by the Fox River Mall. While technically it’s a chain store, Half Price Books is a chain store with soul!The shelves are large and towering, looming with their masses of age-old wisdom. Gems are nestled among the standard fare, and the aroma of dusty, well-loved books pervades every nook and cranny. The books are a mix of used and new, and the prices are truly half-price for the new books. On my last visit I found a brand-new hardcover book for $7.00, the same book I spotted elsewhere for $24.95. Even better than the atmosphere and the prices are the knowledgeable staff who know and love books, and can direct you to what you’re looking for. In short, I will definitely be back to my own little piece of Appleton book heaven.