2014 is a year I will remember fondly as “The Year I Discovered Used Bookstores.” I’m not sure if my husband will remember it quite so fondly but considering all the money it’s saved us, he should.

Then again, if you buy something you wouldn’t have bought otherwise just because it was on sale, have you really saved any money?

I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s start over!

The thing about used bookstores is that despite hearing how wonderful they are, for some reason I hadn’t ever actually gone into one. Sure, I buy used books on Amazon. And I’m a big fan of the library. But a used bookstore?

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click to enlarge

I went into my first used bookstore on a trip to Florida this past March. I stumbled into it as we were wandering around Winter Park. It was musty and dusty and I couldn’t find a single thing of interest. But it set me out on a search for something better.

Yelp directed me to Brightlight Books in nearby Casselberry. Huge store, amazing selection, simple pricing, well-organized, well-lit, clean, and so friendly. They had some beautiful editions of classics and also carried DVDs and CDs. While we browsed, I observed how great the employees were with helping customers locate books and how accommodating they were to those who brought in books to sell.  My biggest complaint about this place is that it’s not in Raleigh so I can go all the time. Also, it set the bar really high for other stores. I only bought a couple of books there, mostly because we were traveling but partly because my traveling companions wanted to go get dinner rather than let me wander the store for hours on end.

Once back home, I was excited to check out local stores. I loaded up the used books we had planned to donate and dragged them to a store I’m not going to name but it had good reviews. We’ll call it Unnamed Used Books. Locals can probably figure it out based on the limited number of stores still in business. My experience there hasn’t been amazing but I don’t want to discourage people from going there just because I feel like used bookstores are a rare thing at this point. And I haven’t been mistreated so we’ll skip identifying them.

Anyways, I took Unnamed some books on my first trip and was greeted just short of rudely. On subsequent visits, I’ve seen this is standard. The employee is bothered. “You have books? *sigh* Put them here.” Often she goes into a speech about how she probably can’t buy any of them because nobody’s buying anything. But she’ll take a look. *Sigh* *Oh bother* No “Welcome to the store” or “Have you been here before?” or “Thanks for coming in, here’s how it works.” Not even a smile. In the end, she bought a paperback, nearly new boxed set of Lord of the Rings and a small inspirational book from me for about $8 store credit. I was disappointed she didn’t buy back more but felt the credit was fine for what she did take.

As a buyer, I’ve been disappointed in Unnamed’s selection. I honestly had trouble spending the $8 credit on my first visit. See the pile labeled #5 in the photo? That’s what I’ve bought in 3 trips to that store, plus a book not pictured that I bought my husband. I go in with a huge wishlist of books I’m actively seeking and sometimes I’m browsing for anything that catches my eye. Eight books. Kind of sad. On my two return trips, without books to sell, the employee is slightly more pleasant in greeting me but no more pleasant to others who bring books in for her to buy. Also Unnamed is very small and dark. They sell only books, no dvds or cds, which given their limited space and odd selection of books is just as well. I believe they do sell audio books.

The other local store I checked out has broken my heart. Because, you see, it was lovely. And the owner retired and closed the store about six weeks after I discovered it. Booksmart Used Books in Cary was not much bigger than Unnamed but their selection was great. I’ll admit to being a bit confused by their organization – I couldn’t figure out the difference between General and Literary Fiction – but I just browsed the whole store and it was pleasant enough that I didn’t care. The employees were always fabulously friendly. Pile #4 in the picture is from them, plus the books in pile #1. Not pictured? Two books my husband bought and 10 books I bought for my nephew’s birthday. I went back twice when they were doing inventory reduction and every book in the store was $1. I miss Booksmart so much. They were nearby and the atmosphere was lovely. I wish Roy a happy retirement but I wish his store was still operating!

Next up – Edward McKay. They’re not as nearby as the others so I haven’t made it there yet. They also buy CDs so I’d like to get there soon.

Come back later this week and I’ll do a much shorter post listing out the actual books in the photo, as well as tell you where the others came from.

Do you take advantage of used bookstores? What are your favorites, in Raleigh or beyond?

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