When someone hears the name “Amazon,” what follows is usually praise for their deals or dread at how they do business. And with Amazon trying to dig its fingers into as many pies as possible—grocery stores included—competition is trying its best to stay afloat.
One of these competitors (at least in some parts of the States) is Half Price Books, which has been family owned and operated since its founding in 1972. It all began when the owners took books from their own personal library (and purchased books from the local community). While Half Price Books is a chain, it captures the feeling of used bookstores. You never know what you’ll discover.
If you’re anything like me, a huge part of the fun of going into a bookstore is looking at the selection of titles a store has in your genre of choice. While I used to hover strictly around the sci-fi and fantasy sections, having access to multiple Half Price Books locations has me digging through the folklore, occultism, horror, medical history, and world history sections.
Why would a used bookstore make me dive further into different genres?
Because each location has a better selection on different topics.
The location closest to me has a great selection of occult, alchemical, and absolutely witchy texts. The other two have stronger presences when it comes to medical history and folklore. (It was in one of these locations that I discovered a book of German mythology. That’s a lot rarer than you might think.)
This location by location variety is one of the reasons Half Price Books—all used bookstores, even—is so important. It is less of a financial risk to explore beyond the authors you know and love. While the same could be said for Amazon, I personally have discovered books at Half Price Books that are impossible to track down online, as the publishers have gone defunct or those books are out of print. When it comes to that, Amazon’s pricing algorithms can get very skewed very quickly. In all fairness, however, Amazon also has access to a much wider array of resources to make sure you get a good deal, even if a book is out of print.
Half Price Books—like many bookstores—also serves as a community center of sorts. Many hosted National Novel Writing Month events, and still others offer a steady succession of author signings, tabletop gaming nights, and workshops. Gatherings like these are the brick and mortar of your local community.
Arguably most importantly, the stock Half Price Books and other used bookstores have is generally very good, almost like new in a lot of cases. (Shout out to Half Price Books for having a nearly brand new copy of Tolkien’s translation of The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrún for less than fifteen bucks.) Being able to examine the quality of the book before purchase is a major bonus that Amazon does not allow you.
On top of all of this, when you spend time and money in your local bookstore, you are keeping your money in your local community and demonstrating that there is still a need and a demand for physical bookstores.
Also, bonus round: the people you meet in these places can be awesome. The places themselves can also have an interesting story or two to tell. (Such as The Moravian Book Shop, located in Bethlehem, PA! Opened in 1745, it is the oldest continuously running bookstore in the U.S., and the second oldest in the world.)