Minding Your Business
A Reader’s Paradise
Authentic Eastern European foods can be found in Raleigh at the Polonez Polish Market.
by Don Vaughan
photography by Sterling E. Stevens
It’s a typical Sunday at Reader’s Corner, a popular used bookstore on Hillsborough Street. A teenager and his dad stand shoulder-to-shoulder perusing old comic books, while mom heads off to check out the mysteries. In the children’s section, a young girl begs for just one more book, while across the store, an older man smiles at the discovery of a Tarzan novel he hadn’t read since he was a teenager. Price: $3.
Reader’s Corner is a mainstay of Raleigh’s used bookstore scene, a welcoming, family-friendly warren of towering bookcases where readers can find books by a multitude of authors and on almost any subject. But that’s not all. Like many used bookstores, Reader’s Corner also sells DVDs, CDs, records, postcards, and more. Come in for a particular book; go home with two movies and the record you were listening to when you received your first kiss.
“Messing around with books is more fun than messing around with anything else,” says owner Irv Coats, who opened Reader’s Corner in 1975. “We just do it for fun. I haven’t drawn a penny’s salary in all the years I’ve been here. I work for free.” Coats isn’t kidding. A military veteran, he lives off his pension and puts all of the bookstore’s profits back into the business.
Across Hillsborough Street and half a block down, you’ll find Nice Price Books, which opened in 1992. It has a slightly different vibe than Reader’s Corner, more youth-oriented, with plenty of books but a greater emphasis on records and comic books. “There is increasing demand for vinyl, and increased availability, too,” observes Enoch Marchant, who co-owns the store with Brian Shaw. “Books are a lot easier to store, but vinyl is really big right now.”
Reader’s Corner, Nice Price Books, and the many other new and used book-stores throughout Raleigh put myth to the notion that paper is dead. In fact, according to the American Booksellers Association, there has been a 40 percent growth in independent bookstores over the past decade, as well as increased sales. Good news all around—especially for readers.
Indeed, after a brief romance with Kindle or Nook, more and more readers are returning to their true love—paper and used bookstores help them feed their fix without busting the bank. At most stores in Raleigh, used books can be had for just a few dollars, or even less. Dog-Eared Books on Atlantic Avenue, which opened in April 2017, sells most books for a dollar each, with a special section where buyers can fill a bag for $10. Book Planet on Harrod Street offers the same $10 deal, says owner Diana Graham.
But bibliophiles often visit used book- stores for reasons other than cheap reading material. We relish the company of others who share our literary passion, and enjoy offering recommendations and receiving the same. The readers who haunt used book-stores are my people, my tribe.
A used bookstore also can be a wonderful place to hang out and people-watch. Or dog-watch, as is the case at Dog-Eared Books, where customers are greeted by a friendly, three-legged Labrador retriever named River. “A lot of people come by just to visit him,” says Caitlynne Garland, who co-owns Dog-Eared Books with Stephanie Stegemoller.
At Reader’s Corner, Coats recalls with a chuckle the local author who was livid at the fact that his latest book was already available at deep discount, and he hadn’t even received his author copies yet. You may not know it, but Raleigh’s used bookstores also do a lot of community good. Reader’s Corner, for example, sells for a dime or a quarter books that ordinarily would be thrown away, and the money raised through such sales goes to National Public Radio.
Stevens Book Shop on Old Wake Forest Road, a city staple since 1954, collects Bibles and other books for ministers and others, who distribute them around the world. And later this year, the store will begin donating books to help local children with their schoolwork. “That goes with our philosophy to serve,” says general manager Marc, who prefers not to share his surname. Meanwhile, Dog-Eared Books regularly donates books to the Boys and Girls Clubs of America and the Methodist Home for Children. “One thing we wholeheartedly believe in is that everyone should have books to read, especially children,” Garland says.
Used bookstores are more than just a place to buy cheap paperbacks: They’re meeting places, day-trip destinations, date-night locales, and even museums. “Used bookstores are an intersection of everything in the community that is good,” says Coats. “Every new bookstore kind of looks the same, but every used bookstore is entirely different. That’s what I love about it.”