An ideal bookstore

At any conference where librarians gather, they will share plans for what they’re going to after the day’s sessions; these plans always include trips to bookstores and local libraries. This is how I learned about a Vancouver bookstore that shall remain nameless in this post. A librarian that I chatted with during a coffee break told me about an amazing bookstore with a great reputation. The last great bookstore I visited while out of town was Portland’s legendary Powell’s. The bookstore I visited in Vancouver was…not great. In fact, it reminded me of some of the bookstores that I hated in my old hometown.

The "front counter"
The “front counter”

There seem to be two major kinds of bookstore owners. There are the ones that are capable of running a bookstore like a business: organized, customer-oriented, and unlikely to kill you with a landslide of print. Then there are the bookstore owners who are basically hoarders who reluctantly sell books every now and then. Powell’s is run by the former. This Vancouver bookstore is clearly run by the later. This isn’t to say that bookstore owners can’t be successful if they don’t go mainstream. For example, I would dearly love to visit Brazenhead Books in New York.

My visit to the unnamed bookstore got me thinking about what I love and don’t love about bookstores. I didn’t realize it, but I do have a mental list:

Do want:

  • Books on shelves so that one can see what’s there. (I really like that Powell’s puts new and old editions together.)
  • Special collections rooms. Rare books should be handled as such.
  • Books in good condition, not crumbling on the shelves. And while I don’t like books that have been scribbled all over*, I do like books with dedications.
  • Books that are organized by more than just fiction and non-fiction. I don’t want to wade through romance to get to historical fiction.
Do not want:

  • Books that reek of mold, cigarette smoke, etc.
  • Books that are buried in piles so that one has to go digging to see what’s there.
  • Places where I don’t get stared at by staff while I browse.
  • Signs that post rules clearly made by people who don’t like customers. (See Black Books rules)
  • No room to move around without high-stepping over piles of books and worrying about smacking things with my bag.

Basically, I want to visit a bookstore where books are clearly loved and where customers are not despised or merely tolerated. A well-organized bookstore with books in good condition—and maybe a place to sit—will tempt me to buy a lot of books. In the other kind of bookstore, I’m more likely to run for the entrance and pretend I walked into the wrong shop.

* I do this to my own books, but I do not pass these on for resale.

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