Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Mr. K's Used Books, Music, and More

The luminous Mrs. V. and I just finished a whirlwind road tour of the Deep South (NY to St. Augustine to New Orleans to Vicksburg to Charleston to back home). The last thing we did before beginning what was supposed to be a ten hour plus drive straight through to Staten Island from Charleston, we stopped at Mr. K's Used Books. Wow, I didn't think places like this existed.

Here in NYC, even the paperback book traders are pretty much all gone. Skyrocketing rents and the competition from online sellers and e-books did them in. And, truth be told, most of them aren't too much of a loss. The really good used books stores were far off in Providence and distant parts of New Jersey. Anyone who ever tells you how great the Strand is isn't a person who buys genre books. The store's selection is pretty poor.

Mr. K's is a bookstore dream come true. Its selection in every genre is large and fairly comprehensive. While newer books tend to predominate, each section (especially mysteries) has a decent selection of older books. And the prices are great. Norton Critical Editions (books I pick up used whenever I come across decent copies) sell for $6 and under, a very good price. The prices I saw on mass market editions ranged from as little as $1.50 to $5 for rarer paperback originals. Hardcovers looked to priced the same way.

And, as the title implies, they don't only sell used books. They have a huge selection of CDs, and DVDs. The place is huge to the point of being overwhelming, which is great. 

And despite all my praise, I only made a few purchases (while Mrs. V. picked up a stack of decorating and art books, and mysteries). But what purchases they were. And I only found one of them, my wife found the others.

Mrs. V. spotted both the three-disc The Sabata Trilogy and Lin Carter's Imaginary Worlds. The first was on a shelf of new arrivals and the second was shelved in the literary criticism.

The last thing I got was on a whim. I was skimming the Political Thriller section when the Len Deighton books caught my eye. I've only read a couple of his books (the searing Bomber and the Hitler-Wins-thriller SS-GB), but I've always meant to read The Ipcress File. And now I've got a nice copy for under two bucks. Even if it stinks, who cares?

And that's what I most loved about the old days roaming around used book stores. Of course I wanted to find that perfect (and underpriced) copy of a Ballantine Adult Fantasy book, but it was taking a chance on something completely new. That's a lot harder now and I'm probably never going to spend money on a brand new book without a real serious recommendation from someone I really trust. In the past, I could go to the Book Pit in Red Bank, NJ, and fill up a shopping bag of horror books with cool covers, mysteries that looked nicely off-kilter, and all sorts of classic sci-fi I had never gotten around to reading.

So, if you have the chance, check out Mr. K's. They also have several other locations: Greenville, SC, Asheville, NC, and Johnson City and Oak Ridge, TN. If you get the chance, definitely stop in.


  1. Very cool. This sounds a lot like the Texas based chain, Half Price Books. They always have a good selection of everything, including music and film. The Dallas - Fort Worth metroplex, Austin, Houston, and San Antonio all have mulitple locations, while smaller cities such as Corpus Christi and San Marcus also have stores. Now if they would only open one in Lubbock, San Angelo, Midland, Abilene, or Amarillo...

  2. Sounds great. I really wish there was something comparable to these stores up here but I think it's an enterprise who time has passed in this region.

  3. If you find yourself out here across the continent in Portland, do yourself the favor of visiting Powell's Books.

    1. I have heard great things about Powell's and have always wanted to visit for a day.

  4. I will indeed. It seems like I've heard great things about it forever. I did sell them a bunch of books years ago online and was happy with the whole transaction.

  5. I've done business with Powell's a few times over the years and was always satisfied. As for he Strand, I used to work by Union Square just a few blocks away. It started going downhill in the mid to late 80's. That's was when the neighborhood started going upscale with the "yuppies" and "dinks" moving in. There used to be close to a dozen small used book stores in the area then, but as crime decreased, property values increased and one by one they all started disappearing. Simply put, while the Strand has managed to stay in business, it's just not the same anymore. I stopped going in there years ago once I realized that without college students buying used textbooks they would most likely go out of business themselves.
    On the one hand I miss the "aroma" of walking through a used book store, and the feeling of success when I found a copy of a book I had been trying to find for years. On the other hand online search engines do make things more than a bit simpler.

    1. Yeah, that sounds about right re: the Strand. When I went to Baruch in the mid-80's it was an interesting enough place, but it was the other, smaller stores scattered around that were the best.

      Here's an interesting NYT article about the old book store row on 4th Ave.

      I truly miss the old days and going on the hunt, but now, older and lazier, I admit to being glad I can just click the buy now button when I'm looking for that one specific paperback I'm going to buy each year.

  6. Damn, I remember reading that article when it came out! I worked in that neighborhood for over 40 years and remember watching the change as it happened. When I still lived in Bklyn. there were two stores I used to go to. One on 86th St under the El line, and the other on 20th Ave just a block away from the El. Both sold used books and old comics. Both long gone now, just like the shops by Union Sq.
    Ok, enough of this, I'm starting to get a bit maudlin now. ;-)

  7. There was a Brooklyn store under an el I went to a bunch of times. Found a copy of KW Jeter's Morlock Night I'd been looking for for years. That was twenty years ago. Yeah, this IS getting maudlin.