Monday, July 23, 2007

Used Books Offered in Three U.S. Airport Bookstores

I flew regularly over roughly a three-decade period before I swore off flying forever on March 22, 2002. And during those almost countless trips, including more than 50 trips across the Atlantic, I found myself in dozens of airport bookstores trying to fight the sheer boredom and frustration that has become such a large part of today's business travel. But not once in all those trips did I run into an airport bookstore that included used books in its sales stock. Until today, I didn't even know that anyone had been brave enough to try something that unique but, according to the Chicago Sun-Times, that's happening in at least three U.S. airports now.
A selection of used books is mixed in among the new at Powell's Books at Portland International.

Headquartered in downtown Portland, Powell's has three branches at the airport: one in the pre-security Oregon Market area and smaller outlets on Concourses C and D.

Powell's airport store manager Martin Barrett says travelers can stop by the pre-security store to sell or trade as many as three books at a time.

Anyone with more than three books to sell or swap must drop them off and return a day or two later for a tally.

''A lot of airport employees and airline crew members take advantage of this,'' says Barrett, but if a passenger shows up with a suitcase full of books to swap, that's fine, too.
Opened about 30 years ago, the Renaissance Book Shop at General Mitchell International Airport may be the oldest used bookstore in an airport.

Located pre-security, the store's shelves are crammed with 40,000 to 50,000 books -- everything from general fiction and biography to local and regional history. There are also back copies of Life magazine.

Dave Long, a staff member at the bookstore for more than 25 years, says customers include frequent travelers, "meeters and greeters" and folks who come to the airport just to browse.

"It's always great to see someone just light up when they find something they've been searching for," Long says.

Ember Dahlvig, who works for a hedge fund in New York and grew up in Medford, Wis., travels to Milwaukee often to visit friends -- and to shop for used books at the airport.

"I leave extra room in my luggage planning on it," she says.

Dahlvig likes the selection, prices and some great bargains. She also enjoys the store's relaxing ambience.
In North Carolina, it's a reader's paradise at Raleigh-Durham International. New books are sold at Borders, Hudson News & Books, CNBC, Press Plus and other retail outlets. But there are about 8,000 used books for sale at 23-year-old 2nd ed. Booksellers, a shop owned by Walter and Karen High. Walter High says the shop sells about 60,000 books a year.
What a great idea! Finally someone realizes that travelers grow sick of seeing the same titles in every airport bookstore that they step into. My favorite airport bookstore was the Books, Etc. located in London's Gatwick airport because it contained a pretty nice selection of hardbacks and paperbacks that I didn't find in most airports. Too, I always looked forward to checking that airport's W.H. Smith location to pick up one of those special "airport hardback editions" that they sold there to travelers for just under ten pounds, quite a bargain at the time because they were recently released books and were usually not available in the U.S. yet.

But finding an airport bookstore that stocked a few thousand used books would have been a dream come true for someone like me...and I might still be flying.


  1. It's about time airports start getting creative about selling books. They ahve a captive audience...

    Okay, I'm intrigued. Why did you swear off flying on March 22, 2002?

  2. What a FANTASTIC idea. Trouble is it would probably increase my baggage ten-fold! Imagine picking up all those books that you suddenly realise are real holes in your collection. LOL. The bland airport bookshops are quite easy to stay away from for me..I have my reading material sorted already. But this ide....oh goodness...

  3. I've been to Renaissance Books at the Milwaukee Airport many times. I even found a vintage edition of Life Magazine for the year and month of a period play I was directing once and put in on the set. It's a wonderful shop, so wonderful that when I lived there, if there hadn't been a branch in town, I might have been going out to the airport more often.

  4. Now: some further thoughts about Harry Potter.

    I am quite enjoying the "buzz" about Harry. I have decided that it is one of those cultural phenomena that we share too infrequently these days. Used to be we might share a Sunday night movie or something. Now that we are all broadbanded and DVD'ed and pay-TVed and here and there, the moments to share with strangers are quite rare.

    So, I've decided I don't care about the marketing, the hype, the smart-arsed critics, the fact that the books aren't high lit, or someone has a snooty against-the-tide rant about them, because what I DO like is that strangers are striking up conversations, people in offices are laughing about "where they are up to", NUMEROUS ppl are walking around with books under their arms with TWO bookmarks (one where Mum or Dad (less often Dad) is up to, one where son/daughter is up to), people are "forbidden" from giving away the ending, radio commentators and talkback phoners have little jokes about it that the rest of the audience share, waiters in cafes stop and chat about it, passengers on public transport look up from their copies, catch each others' eye and SMILE.

    Good, communal stuff. It's quite a nice feeling. Sydney has a little bit of the "Olympic feeling" about it, when something PLEASANT rather than a disaster or tragedy, bad weather or shared whingeing can make people enjoy a snippet of time with complete strangers. It's a warm feeling!

    And I just LOVED your pics at Borders. All those people hanging out, lounging around the floor of a bookshop READING. At midnight. When they could have been stuffing their faces with potato chips on the sofa looking at Nightmare on Axe Murder Street part 16. They might go back to that next week, but for one night they were sharing a space and time in a BOOKSHOP.

  5. That is just so freakin awesome! Of course I never fly through either of those airports : )

  6. It's something that I never expected to see, Gentle Reader, just figuring that airport rental space would be way too expensive for independent booksellers to handle. It's a nice surprise, though.

    As for swearing off flying, it was a combination of things: too many hours spent in airports, security procedures that became so frustrating to me, so much time spent in foreign countries that I really started missing this one, and just a general "fatigue" with the whole process.

    On that date I arrived in Houston after having gone through bomb scares in Paris and London, during both of which I stood outside the airport in the rain for two hours at a time. I just said to myself when I stepped off that last plain that if I couldn't drive there next time, I wasn't going. And I've stuck to that vow for over five years now...despite the fact that still had over 700,000 frequent flier miles at that point (my wife and daughters have whittled that number down to about 500,000 miles now).

  7. That was pretty much my reaction, Sally. I've been known to have to buy an extra suitcase to drag books home in, so it wouldn't be a first.

    But just thinking about all the "relief" I could have found in that kind of airport bookstore while stranded in some boring airport makes me wonder if I would take up flying again if this became a common thing.

  8. Sounds like quite a store, Ted. Anything that could get a person to drive to an airport to see it has to be very special, indeed.

    I suppose those old Life magazines do make wonderful props and all...lots of nostalgia value and they are large enough to make them recognizable from a distance.

  9. Sally, your Potter comments are great! You're exactly correct, of course, about that communal feeling. In those photos of mine that you mentioned, you will find folks of all ages and colors, etc. and they are all there, at that one moment in time, with a common purpose. It was a very friendly atmosphere and I noticed people chatting to a degree that I've seldom seen before.

    I even spotted a group of young Muslim girls, in strict Muslim dress, about six of them, who were laughing and joking with each other and others about the books and how much fun it all was.

    I'm not a Potter fan, as I've said numerous times, but I can certainly appreciate the books for what they've accomplished in creating a cultural milestone for so many people around the world.

  10. That's my problem, too, myutopia...wrong airports for me, but let's hope it's the start of a new trend.

  11. Actually, I encountered a display of used books in a bookstore in the Philly airport during my last foray out of the state. I remembered thinking that it was such a sensible idea. It wasn't a Powell's or anything large; just a display in the rear of second-hand books available at reduced prices.

  12. Gotta love it, Jill. Maybe a "quiet revolution" has been underway for a while now and the media are finally picking up on it.

  13. I'm glad you explained about your moratorium on flying--I was worried it was something even more dire. But I get it--it's such a hassle to travel by air these days. I'm always dragging three kids with me, getting them to take off their shoes through the security check, hoisting the youngest's carseat through the x-ray machine. And we're bringing our carry-on liquids and gels in 3-ounce containers, in quart-size plastic's all such a pain in the neck. Unfortunately, I don't have much choice, as my husband's family is on the other side of the country from us...oh well, maybe they'll get a better book store in my airport!

  14. Frankly, Gentle Reader, I don't know how you do it with kids. I collected so many horror stories over the years that I still cringe when I think about having to climb on an airplane for some emergency. It won't be easy for me if that day ever comes.

    So many of my flights were of the non-stop 10-12 hour variety that I started to feel like a caged animal at I know why they walk around the perimeter of their cages, slowly shaking their heads. :-)

  15. Sam, it's nice to see you mention Renaissance Books in Milwaukee, a city I frequently fly through. I love that bookstore. Unfortunately, it is located outside of security, making it less accessible for people who are just flying through, rather than beginning or ending their trips in Milwaukee. I usually can't face going through the screening process twice (and indeed don't usually have time to do so), so I can't go there. I wonder if the changes in security have hurt their business?

  16. The question of which side of security to locate on does seem like the key one, Becky. I don't imagine that many people stop to shop on their way out of the airport, so I would imagine that they would sell more books to their "captive audience" inside security than what they are selling now. It does make you wonder.

  17. The way Mitchell Field is set up, there would be no way to reach most travellers if Renaissance was set up in a single concourse. Thus, we find it is much more viable to be set up pre-security. (This also enables us to sell to the non-traveler, and to locals who will actually come out to the airport just to shop with us.)

  18. That makes sense, Mike. I really like the idea that locals actually come to the airport to shop with you guys. That gives me a lot of hope for indie bookstores. Build them and readers will find them.