OMAHA, NE—My favorite used bookstore is an unkept mess. It’s the neighbor to a tattoo parlor and a bar—an unlikely location for literature.
Inside, the bookstore is drastically underlit to begin with and smoky from all the cigarettes burned by the owner at his junk-strewn desk. The fire chief would not be happy. Bookshelves stretch 15 feet into the sky, far out of reach of customers and to an altitude that makes the spines illegible (except for the oversized tomes). The owners have stuffed the overflow book stock wherever they find open air, either horizontally over jammed shelving or—what appears to be the favorite option—in piles of books strewn on the floor. This overflow further congests the tight walkways. To view the recent additions to the store, shoppers must humble themselves on one knee and squat down to the floor level to view the spines. Other shoppers step over each other as the walkways. Just by posture you can determine whether someone is new to the store or a frequent visitor. The curiosity of a newbie will be satisfied by walking upright. The frequent shoppers snail along at floor level.
This makes me question who is prioritized in the store landscape. Is it the frequent shoppers or the books? And will there come a point in the store when there is no longer room for the shoppers and it becomes a pool of books with no outflow? How many more books must be added to the collection until the morning unlocking of the store will include a routine avalanche of books pouring out from the front door and out upon the sidewalk and into the street?
I have friends who despise such used bookstores and will never buy or read a used book. They watch too much Seinfeld. I love used bookstores, and especially this one.