As Borders and Barnes & Noble take over the book-selling world, it is becoming increasingly hard to find small used bookstores in Philadelphia – but they do still exist. Although they do not offer the atmosphere of the chain stores and often don’t have quite as wide a selection, the prices are significantly lower.
Big Jar Books, located at 55 N. 2nd St., is the most similar to the bigger book chains. It has nice wood floors, a caf, a good selection of commonly known books and, best of all, they charge about half as much as the major chains. And the books, although used, are in good condition. The coffee and baked goods in the small but quaint caf are a little cheaper than big chains, but seating is limited.
Bookhaven, located at 2202 Fairmount Ave., has prices similar to Big Jar, but their selection is much more varied. People accustomed to shopping in chain stores will find that the atmosphere leaves a bit to be desired. There is no room for a caf or seating area. Their colossal collection of books is jammed into the first two floors of the former row home that houses the store.
A large section of the store is dedicated to books on history and other academic subjects. From literature to cookbooks to popular fiction, this store carries many unique items not commonly found at big chains. The owners are also quite friendly.
One of the more interesting used bookstores in Philadelphia is the Book Corner, located just behind the Philadelphia Free Public Library. The Book Corner sells the Free Library’s surplus books. Hence, its interior looks like a small branch of the library.
The Book Corner sells books for about half of the price of the other used bookstores. To put this in perspective, The Vintage Paperback edition of William Faukner’s “The Sound and The Fury” costs about $11 at Barnes and Noble, $6 at Bookhaven or Big Jar, and only $3 at the Book Corner.
While Bookhaven and Big Jar mainly stock paperback editions, the Book Corner sells many old hardcover editions that have been taken out of library circulation.
The Book Corner has a wide selection of popular fiction, but its literature selection is less diverse than Bookhaven’s. This may be because libraries acquire surplus editions of commonly read books and often only have a few copies of the more esoteric and less frequently read books. The Book Corner is unparalleled for value.
For the economically-minded person who wishes to save money and support small businesses while retaining the comforts and conveniences of a major book chain, my advice is this: Go to Borders or Barnes and Noble to look at books and drink coffee. Go to a used bookstore to make your purchase.
Dan Kristie can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org