The impoverished college student is nearly as stereotypical as the starving artist. Neither is expected to tip well or live in posh surroundings, but both are likely to shell out top dollar for necessary supplies.
Whether you’re looking to fill course requirements or spare time, inexpensive options do exist for collegiate book buyers. In a city the size of Philadelphia, a plethora of used bookstores exist that offer discerning shoppers a myriad of options. Some boast low prices, others good selection and still others notoriously rare books. Whereas all branches of Borders or Barnes & Noble are functionally identical, each used bookstore has its own story. So, how to choose? It depends what you’re looking for.
For both quality and quantity of selection, nobody in Philly can beat The Book Trader (Seventh North Second Street), less than a block from the Second Street El stop. A labyrinth, two-story warehouse of literature, The Book Trader is your best bet for any title.
Almost immediately upon entering, one is immersed in a well-ordered maze of non-fiction titles. History, film, interior design and a cornucopia of other subjects line the first floor bookcases and the massive fiction section is just a staircase away.
“I don’t know how many books we have,” said proprietor Peter Hiler, adding that The Book Trader stocks more titles than most bookstores of any kind in the area.
If Old City is out of your way, Russokoff’s Books and Records (259 S. 10th Street) in Center City offers a reasonable selection at modest prices. The cozy confines of this shop make it ideal for pleasure browsing, which can become overwhelming at the mammoth Book Trader.
“We’ve always sold books,” said the Russokoffs, retired Philadelphian schoolteachers and Temple alumni. It almost seems to be true, considering Russokoff’s has been serving the region for 50 years, the last 25 of them at the current location. With so much history, it’s no wonder the Russokoffs have passed on their bookselling heritage: two of their children own area bookstores as well.
Next time you’re eyeing up the South Street sex shops, try satisfying your intellectual curiosity a few steps away on the 500 block of Bainbridge, where you’ll find Mostly Books (529 South St.) and Philly AIDS Thrift (514 South St.) just across the street from one another.
Mostly Books offers a vast selection at reasonable prices, but PAT is a hidden gem. Also a thrift shop, the selection here is meager, but so are the prices. Here, you’ll pay only 10 percent of the original cover price.
For many paperbacks, that translates into less than $0.15 per book. As if that’s not enough, what little money you do spend at PAT supports the AIDS fund, raising HIV and AIDS awareness in the Delaware Valley. With all the money you’ll be saving, an additional donation of a dollar or two wouldn’t be out of line.
Of course, where else would you find Philadelphia’s best used bookstore, but next to the Free Library? The Book Corner (311 N. 20th St.), maintained by the Friends of the Free Library, is just a short walk from Temple’s free shuttle service, so transportation costs need not become an issue. The Book Corner offers a selection nearly equal to The Book Trader’s but includes movies, CDs and records at far more reasonable prices.
Since all profits go to supporting programs at the Free Library, you need not fret about where your dollars are going. As an added bonus, students with college ID receive a 10 percent discount at the checkout, making The Book Corner your best bet for inexpensive used books.
With so many inexpensive options, it’s a wonder any college student shops at the corporate chains.
Used bookstores may not offer the prettiest editions and condition is always hit-or-miss, but there’s no beating the prices.
So bypass the campus bookstore next semester and head into the city, riding the subway on a well padded wallet.
Peter Chomko can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.