An ideal bookstore? Hmm. I think like most book lovers, I enjoy the tactile act of browsing. I like being able to pick up a book and read a few pages. I especially love used bookstores…part of the fun is finding a gem of book for a good price or finding something you didn’t know you wanted.
So for me, an ideal bookstore would still have this physical browsing component. If it also allows for a machine to POD or sampling with an ereader ala Nook at a B&N, then that’s okay with me, too. (The place doesn’t have to sell coffee. ) Though, I have to admit, I’ve gotten used to browsing online with Amazon and have bought many books online. I haven’t had the time to browse a bookstore since I became a father. It’s hard to browse a bookstore with a five-year-old and a two-year-old.
But there are two things for me that are important, one moreso than the other: size and staff. I like big bookstores with a knowledgeable staff. (Borders was once this way long ago.) But good staff is more important to me than size.
When I lived in Los Angeles, by far my favorite bookstore was Midnight Special in Santa Monica. I did not mind the drive from Echo Park to get there. Unfortunately, they were forced to move when the rent on their Third Street Promenade storefront was raised too high. They relocated one street over, but did not get the foot traffic they used to get on the Promenade, and were forced to close. At their going out of business sale, I remember I bought a copy of Julio Cortazar’s Hopscotch (it’s a fun, tragic, but often bewildering book.) It was a fantastic bookstore, filled with a deep collection of books and highly knowledgeable staff. There are still good bookstores in L.A., notably Skylight and Vroman’s.
In Chicago (this was the 90’s), I liked the Borders at Broadway and Clark, but I especially liked Unabridged Bookstore in Lakeview. The staff were always knowledgeable and would suggest other writers or books you might like (not the crafted hard sell you would get at Borders), and my wife often shopped at Women and Children First up in Andersonville.
Right now I’d have to say my favorite book store is John K. King Used and Rare books in Detroit. It’s housed in a former factory. The building is four stories and it is jam-packed with books. You can easily get lost exploring the voluminous shelves overflowing with books. Any book lover who comes near Detroit for whatever reason should stop in. Since I live more than an hour’s drive away, I don’t get there as often as I would like.
The bad news is that the owner might have to close two of his stores, one in Ferndale and one by the Wayne State campus. The good news is that the downtown flagship store still does well.
(Oh, and if you need a cheap place to stay the next time you’re in Detroit, bring a tent and a sleeping bag and you can camp on top of the Broderick Tower like these guys did, and watch the sun rise from 35 stories up in the air. More on the Broderick Tower here.)
Also, I can’t say that I care much if a bookstore has a cafe. These days, with my primary job being a stay-at-home dad, I don’t have the time to linger at a bookstore or in a cafe. But that’s just me. Maybe when the youngest is in school this will change.