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Good old-fashioned bookstores?

Years ago, in the early and mid-1990s, when I was a new bookseller, we used to make frequent trips towards the coast of California north of San Francisco – to Marin and Sonoma counties – and we could easily spend a day scouting in the used bookstores we found there, and return with a carload of boxes.  As the years went on most of those stores closed – and not much came along to replace them.   Much as I love buying and selling on the internet, it is not quite the same thing.

I still miss those bookhunting trips, so this month, driven by nostalgia (and a desire to forget the present) we  hit the road again.  We live further away now, so it became a three day trip,  with a great stay in a lovely little airbnb apartment in Lucas Valley,  complete with a Bruce Johnson large wood sculpture in the courtyard and a welcoming bottle of wine.

Despite the pleasant accommodations,  in our first full day of searching, good books –  books worth buying –  were pretty hard to find.  We even came up empty in several thrift stores.  Mystery hardcovers at the  Friends of the Library store in Novato were only $1 each, but there were none we could use, although I did find a few books in other sections of the store (one of the advantages of having several specialties means that if one doesn’t work out, another might.)

The weather was perfect – 70 and sunny with a light breeze – the kind of autumn day that makes you glad to be living in California.  Point Reyes National Seashore was just a few miles down the road, through the redwoods and rolling hills.  Lunch in town consisted of  oysters on the half shell,  artisan pizza and local beer on the patio – it doesn’t get much better than that, even if we only had one small bag of books in the car so far.

Rebound Books opened in San Rafael in 2005, after most of the other stores had closed,  but a newly opened (or even a 12 year old)  store  – with maybe 10% of the space –  just cannot replace a store like Hal Bertram’s  old Mandrake Bookshop with its high shelves, and enough inventory to be nicknamed “the Strand of Marin County.”  Still Rebound does have a pretty eclectic selection in a fairly small space, reasonable prices (I found a couple of juvenile series books here)  and very friendly and helpful owners (it is also conveniently located next door to The WhipperSnapper, a very good Caribbean fusion restaurant) .

The next day we headed to Santa Rosa, where there is still a survivor of the “good old days” – Treehorn Books on 4th St in downtown.  Founded in 1979, it always had a good selection of children’s books but now it has lots more books than it used to, including  just about the biggest selection of poetry books you will find in a used bookstore.   Trehorn has shelves going all the way up to their 12 foot ceilings (or are they 14 ft?),  and lots and lots of the shelves are packed with double rows of books, so browsing is challenging.  They list a very small selection of their books online,  but even though very few are online, and their prices are reasonable, they really know their books so those prices 68528 reflect the current market pretty closely.

Nevertheless, I found a couple of items irresistible – the first was a small die-cut children’s book, published early in the 20th century by a printing company founded in Scotland in 1851 – a retelling of The Three Bears.  Valentine & Sons, the publisher of a series of shaped books for children, became the largest printer of postcards in Scotland. Although it was later sold to Hallmark, this little book stands as testimony to its work over 100 years ago.

The second book was a signed copy of Howard Pease’s The Secret Cargo – just a reprint, unfortunately  – but in a d68595-1ust jacket – and quite uncommon signed.    But it wasn’t the book alone that attracted me – it was the laid in mimeographed program for “Howard Pease Day” in 1961 (the same date as the book was signed) complete with lyrics for a song to be sung to the tune of “Farmer in the Dell. ”   For me, it is these kind of connections that make a copy of a book really special.

6 thoughts on “Good old-fashioned bookstores?”

  1. Hello, there!
    What a treat, reading your comments on book scouting. Love it, and hope you will consider doing more writing about the places you visit to search out books and bookstores. Thanks, again. See you in March, or thereabouts, in Sacramento. Ciao! Maria Dela Torres

    1. Thanks – we are hoping to do lots more traveling in the coming year – but expect to be at the Sacramento Antiquarian Book Fair in March, as usual! See you then –

  2. This was a nostalgic journey-I can feel the old, uneven pine floors under my feet, and see the stacks of books that exist only in my memory. I remember the store that was just a chimney when the flames were put out. And the bookstores that went away because no one came any more. (Thanks, Amazon.). Think I’ll go buy a book from a bookstore if I can find one!

  3. Chris: you need to check out the thrift shops along 101 From Cotati on the left heading into Santa Rosa also there use to be a good junk/thrift that had a lot of books on the back road from Petaluma to the Coast you could make a loop back to Santa Rosa. Novato and San Rafael also have good hospice shops though the hours are sometimes iffy.

    1. No luck in Novato or San Rafael on this last trip – but thanks for the tip about the road to Cotati. If nothing else it is a good excuse to check out more back roads!

    2. Most thrift and charity shops are a waste of time. They do get good books donated but these are sorted and sold online. Only the dreck makes in on to the open shelves.

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