We all know the special feeling that comes with standing in narrow aisles, surrounded by that smell and sensation unique to books. If you’re not familiar with that feeling, hundreds of other Vancouverites are; every day, a flock of book lovers storm the shelves of Vancouver’s used book shops in search of that romance and appeal that can only be found in a second-hand book. Whether you believe that these books have more character than the new tomes found in chain bookstores, or you are simply looking to save money, we invite you to browse our selection of Vancouver’s most cozy, fascinating, and inspiring used book shops.
Address: 3591 41st Avenue W
Website: Lawrence Books on Yelp
Lawrence’s Books is one of those bookstores that seem quite large from outside, but when you enter, you feel a sudden urge to scream, "How is this possible?" If you suffer from claustrophobia, you’d better stay outside and send a friend in! Its sheer vastness results in its biggest advantage, and that is variety. You can find a book from every genre and corner of the world here. Despite the volume of the store’s inventory, the bookcases are highly organized and a patient shopper can expect to find almost anything on the store’s shelves. This store is not for casual readers; the focus of the content is on older and rarer publications, so you won’t find this week’s bestsellers in the windows.
The store has a mind-boggling depth of history, old school textbooks, geography, and fiction... I don't think two hours of massage could generate as many ‘ooohs’ out of me as one half-hour inside Lawrence Books could."
said a customer who travels from the United States to shop here!
Address: 455 Pender Street W
Website: MacLeod's Books on Yelp
If you want to search for a book in this store, you’re going on a quest. Books are where you wouldn’t imagine in your wildest dreams, filling up the store completely. You won’t believe your ears when you ask staff about the location of some title and they know where to find it instantly. However, if you’re not in a hurry, you might find yourself spending hours wandering around and finding the most fascinating titles for very reasonable prices. Old books, new books, rare books, fun books—you name it and they’ve got it. MacLeod’s Books is pretty strong on history and fiction, and has lots of poetry, drama, and art books as well. They even order titles from eBay that they believe are worth selling in their store. You won’t be able to leave without books you didn’t even know you needed until you saw them here. If you don’t believe us, you can check out some photos of MacLeod’s.
"We handle almost anything to do with paper, as long as it is needed or wanted or important...I’ve sold books for $40,000, and I sell books for a dollar,"
said Don Stewart, MacLeod's owner.
Additionally, MacLeod’s staff will be of immense help if you are looking for a hard-to-find book. The staff will not only likely know of the book you are looking for, but they will also help you find it.
"I had a specific request as a Christmas gift for a friend: an Arabic Koran. At first, one staff member could only recall a handwritten antique one (est. $500) lying around in the piles but that was absolutely out of my price range,"
one customer shared his experience.
"I somewhat gave up, thinking I’d figure out a plan B as a Christmas gift, but the staff member said he’ll keep looking for a more affordable one for me. In a handful of days, I received an email saying they found me one for under $10."
Carson Books and Records
Address: 4340 Main Street
Website: Carson Books on Yelp
Tim Carson, proprietor of Carson Books and Records, has had three bookstores in the Vancouver area. He currently operates out of his most popular location to date, which is his store on Main Street. Carson focuses on selling what he calls "quality literature" alongside a large amount of jazz and other vinyl.
"[They] get to know their regulars, and it feels like you’re buying from friends. You can tell they really like books...they’ll happily talk about books and records with you, including what you're buying or what they're currently shelving."
said a long time customer.
Readers should avoid confusion with the previous locations of Carson Books on Dunbar and West Broadway; the only currently active store is the one found on Main Street.
Address: 2422 Main Street
Unlike many of the other bookstores featured in this article, Pulpfiction Books has an open design with room to spare. The store’s shelves are clearly labeled and organized, and you don’t need to bump elbows with your neighbour in order to read the titles on display. The display at the front of Pulpfiction Books contains the store’s best selection of fiction alongside Canadian (and Vancouver) literature for much cheaper than the larger, corporate bookstores.
"Whether you're seeking a recent Hilary Mantel, an out-of-print Clark Ashton Smith, or that little blue book about a pony you had when you were a kid, we'll either have it on our shelves, or be able to help you find it,"
it says on their website.
Pulpfiction Books is a shining example of how bookstores can continue to grow, even in today's seemingly shrinking market.
"We're a little over 15 years old, having expanded from one person, one location and 5,000-odd books to three locations, nine staff and 100,000+ books,"
said Christopher, when we reached out to Pulpfiction books to learn more about the store's history.
"We order in new books at prices competitive with (and these days often identical to or cheaper than) those offered by huge online competitors like Amazon and Indigo, and, as the website says, our Main Street shop in particular has amazingly high turnover, with hundreds, and often thousands, of new books added to the shelves every single day."
(We received a very quick response that seems to typify the company's dedication to customer service.)
The store’s staff certainly know their business, and are ready to recommend you some reading material if you don’t know what you are looking for. Additionally, Pulpfiction Books is a perfect place for you to sell your (good quality) used books. They will give you top dollar for your material, and point out any higher priced books among your collection.
Pulpfiction books also has two other locations at 2754 West Broadway and 1830 Commercial Drive.
Address: 523 Richards Street
The term that comes to mind when thinking about Albion Books is "controlled chaos." Fans of books will know exactly what we are talking about; Albion Books is a place where you can go to drown in literature. It is easy to lose yourself on purpose browsing the shelves, but the store’s owner knows his stuff, and will be happy to help you find a gift or something new for yourself. Likewise, the store’s staff love their work.
"The woman who was working when I arrived was friendly and helpful,"
said a customer.
"She spent about 20 minutes helping a woman choose an entire stack of new books to take home, and she clearly loved every minute of the quest."
Albion Books has been providing its selection of used books in the same location for 25 years and, much like Carson’s store above, the store also sells collectible vinyl LPs in multiple genres. If you’re in the market for recent best-sellers, classic literature, science fiction, fine arts, philosophy, or any other subject, put Albion Books on your to-visit list.
Address: 2306 W Broadway
Not to be confused with the small, independent press of the same name, Tanglewood Books is a store that specializes in used, out-of-print, rare, and publisher-remaindered books. Open seven days a week, Tanglewood typically sells most of its books at 50% off the cover price, even books that are decades old (when cover prices were lower.) Their staff is also extremely friendly, and very knowledgeable about the broad range of genres and subjects on the store’s shelves.
"I used to shop around a lot of stores, because my children are different ages and like different things... a friend told me about this store, and now it’s the only place I need to go. The staff here know exactly where to find something if I want it, and have made great recommendations when I’d otherwise be guessing,"
said a customer we met while browsing.
Tanglewood Books is a prime example of how used bookstores have begun to make a comeback.
"We started up in about 1993 or 1994 with our first store on West Broadway... and expanded to two stores in the late nineties. [In 2013], we concentrated all our efforts on this remaining location, because this store is in a beautiful old heritage building with a lot of good things going on all around it,"
said Alan, the manager of the store.
"We applaud our fellow booksellers who have weathered the storm and warmly welcome the new ones who have just recently opened in this city. [Vancouver] is becoming a good book reading environment again and I think we booksellers all appreciate seeing that healthy interest."
Tanglewood Books also accepts your used books for cash or trade-in value. We recommend bringing in some books for trade; you’ll get twice as much in credit as you would in cash, and you’ll have an excuse to lose yourself amongst the store’s selection of top-quality books.
Hopefully you find something special at one of these shops. Did we miss your favourite used bookstore? Be sure to let us know in the comments below!