Spending the afternoon at Michigan's largest used book store. John King Book Store is located in the heart of the motor city; literally. Just a few blocks from the downtown area of Detroit MI, this halfway run down four story brick building houses the largest collection of used and rare antique books in Michigan.
The seen in this historic building is to say the least, desolate. In an age where you can "Download Books" or "purchase virtual books online", what do you expect ? The fast paced life that develops outside, rarely sees a flicker of life from within these walls but waiting around, one begins to see a slow but steady line of young hipsters with loss change coming out of their pockets; just enough to cover the cost of, say, three full novels.
This four story brick building is concealed in plain view, a common looking structure in the surrounding downtown area that's architecturally synonymous with the rest of the turn of the century factory's. Four floors of wall to wall books is quite unbelievable considering that the original 80 year old wooden floors are buckling in some areas under the immense weight of books. Soft maple hand made shelves align in precession straight rows down each floor, almost as if the whole building was built around them. Due to rescissional cut backs, hot un-aircondioned floors during the summer time gives away to arctic coat-wairing book browsing in the long Michigan winters. How would you like to be one of these store's clerks, book sorting your way though 90 degree heat in the summer and then bundling up through semi-heated rooms during the winter. The original windows are efficient to the point of keeping a stray bird from flying in, but not from keeping the noise from the freeway next to this building and the bitter cold wind out.
Out of the negative aspects are golden quality's that continues to attract people to brave the elements in search for a book. As vast of a collection of books this place has; if you need a certain book, they probably have it. 1950's pulp classics? They got them. Dark poetry? They got'em. How to sex manuals.....In Yugoslavian? Yea, they got'em.
Walking through the front door into the fourier, the first thing you come across is boxes and boxes of free books (as indicated by the "FREE BOOKS" scribbled on the side of each box). At the top of the fouriers marble stairwell are two doors on opposite sides. Ones blocked off by an antique cabinet(thats where they store their rare antique furniture), the other is the entrance to the four floors of analog literary material. Not exactly a grand enterance. Only a nondescript door with the only indicating sign is to notify you of the surveillance camera. Through this door, you are corralled to the front counter via old school red velvet rope. The reason for this is clear when the counter clerk politely asks you to leave behind your baggage. In a high crime environment with low employment, it's a fact of life that pilfering persist.
While walking up the stairs to each of the four floors, old posters and reproductions of paintings lining the walls, beg to be bought. The resonate noise from the freeway a few yards away, vibrates your body in some areas of this building, and yet in others it's remarkably just as quiet as any other public library. Each floor has it's own unique ambiance, provided by hand drawn pictorial signs that look as if they were drawn in a past generation by some art students working there.
On this day I'm here for records. Yes this book store dose have records, and not just any old L.P. or single. I'm here for the type of records you won't find in your local record store. 78's. Old 78's. From the 1920's. A few time a year I will pop my head in and look at their latest collection of 78's. On the floor in old wooden milk crates, in a dimly lit isle way, along with other 45's 33's, there they will sit and wait for a guy like me, to buy them, take them home, clean them, and finally play them on a proper record player (a vintage wind up Victrola).
Books, bOOks, BooKs, bookS, BoOkS. If your into reading books (the analog kind that is), take a trip downtown and brave the elements. You won't be disappointed. Just remember. Upon arrival: If it's winter time - keep your coat on.