I adored Half-Price Books when it first started in an old laundromat in Dallas, Texas. Can’t remember if the washers and dryers were still there, but the folding counters and clothes carts were, and they were covered and filled with books. There were also various and sundry crates used for books — milk crates, fruit crates, etc. — and there was no rhyme nor reason as to which containers were used where. As for chairs, there was everything from old chaise lounges with no backs to recliners (ala Frazier’s dad’s) to bean bag chairs, which meant that no one cared if someone was sprawled every which way reading a book.
A few years after this they opened a store about four or five miles to the south in an old strip shop across the street from one of the first Dr. Pepper plants. My husband and I thought we had died and gone to heaven since this place was enormous — about half the size of a Wal-Mart but the ceilings were low slung and gave an intimate feel. Plus, the owners had really classed it up by having matching crates for each category. The arts section had milk crates, the records section (yeah, they added a wonderful old record section) had peach crates, and the history section was really up-town with brand new wooden shelves (no beveling mind you; just some lumber slapped together) and on and on.
We frequently spent several hours there on Saturday mornings (this was before kids’ sports dominated our lives) and then topped it with lunch at a great old Italian restaurant next door so we could take our grocery bags full of books and sit and ooh and aah over our finds. I remember us envying the clerks at the bookstore and wishing we could have worked there to get first dibs on the really great stuff. The clerks definitely weren’t there for the money, and everyone of them were readers and passionate about discussing books.
Then Half-Price had to go and make a chain and slick it up, which was fine for a few years, but it’s never been what it was. Same thing happened with Tattered Cover in Denver, which is close to where I live now. Had to spiff it up and lose its charm and that wonderful invitation to explore without being intimidated by some kid who can run a computer but who looks at you like you have another head if you ask for an anthology of Chekhov never mind asking for Ambrose Bierce. As for the furniture, I’m a mutt, so the furniture is way too fine for me to ever relax.
Having said all of this, I admit I’m a big time Amazon user, but I still feel guilty when I buy a book there. I guess my old 70s brown crushed velvet love seat, which I’m sitting on as I type this, is my attempt to revisit the days of the tacky old bookstores, and Vulpes Libris serves as manna for book discussions so I can escape the sometimes mundane thinking in my little town (Think Dibley here, oh, and you would be really close to imagining my life. :D)
See what happens when you name something soapbox.