Buy the book

Do the prices in the chain bookstores get you down? Here’s the skinny on five of the Truckee Meadows’ finest purveyors of used books.

Cheron Taylor is co-owner of the casually elegant Dharma books on W. First Street, just off Sierra.

Cheron Taylor is co-owner of the casually elegant Dharma books on W. First Street, just off Sierra.

Photo By David Robert

Used bookstores are unique among American businesses, possessing the dual missions of selling other people’s refuse while recycling something as non-renewable as literature and helping to lengthen books’ lifetimes—keeping them fresh and available to new users long after they’ve left the best-seller lists.

Used bookstores are good for consumers, too. You can walk in with a $20 bill and walk out with a sack full of books and enough left over for an Awful Awful Burger.

Reno offers a nice range of options for a community this size. Each store has a character and specialty all its own.

Dharma Books

11 N. Sierra St., No. 107, 786-8667

Cheron Taylor, 25, and Tony Hall, 30, have been partners for five years. They met while working at the now-defunct “Thrifty Joe’s Books & Music.”

“We were sort of moonlighting as collectors while we were there,” Taylor said. They started selling online in 1999 with “a couple of hundred books.” Today they have about 7,000.

The name Dharma Books has more to do with Jack Kerouac’s The Dharma Bums than with Eastern philosophy, Hall said. He and Taylor are Kerouac fans.

The store is casually elegant, with framed original artworks and prints above the bookcases, a textured floor punctuated by Persian-style throw-rugs, a table and chairs just inside the doorway, and a comfortable padded bench where customers can sit and browse their potential purchases. Bookcases that would feel at home in a small-town library hold an eclectic mix of rare and used books. Literature and modern fiction are big sellers, as well as Nevada history and photography. World War II and Civil War books occupy a separate room.

Hall and Taylor participate in the monthly downtown Wine Walk, and on the second Tuesday of each month, they host a book discussion group. On Nov. 29, they will join five other area businesses in a mass book signing for about two dozen University of Nevada Press authors.

The Paperback Exchange

131 Vesta St., 322-8822

The Paperback Exchange is near the intersection of Holcomb and Virginia—same spot it’s occupied for 30 years.

Store manager Lynn Smith, 43, who has worked there for 15 years, strolls through narrow canyons of tightly packed bookshelves. Every horizontal surface has a book on it, all meticulously sorted and alphabetized. A hand-drawn map helps customers find what they are looking for. “Sci-Fi” and “Fantasy,” “International Intrigue” and “Men of Adventure,” “Pre-Dawn,” “Indians” and “Westerns” are just a few of the categories. The store’s specialty, however, is “Romance,” with such sub-categories as “Romance Series,” “Harlequin Romance,” “Regency Romance” and “Barbara Cartland’s Bodice-Rippers.”

Prices range from a low of about 20 cents for older books to as much as $5.99 for the newest best-sellers, roughly half their original cover price. There are about 130,000 books in inventory, all paperbacks.

“We have customers who came here when they were little babies, and they’re still customers today,” Smith said.

Black & White Books

3378 Lakeside Court, 828-3445

Black & White Books specializes in rare and out-of-print books. Its owner, Roman Hruska, 33, worked for, an Internet bookseller, before buying the store about five years ago.

To the left of the entrance are the regular stacks, with discrete white-on-black category signs suspended on wires from the ceiling. They include “Sports,” “Games,” the ubiquitous “Sci-Fi” and “Mysteries"—about 50 altogether.

To the right of the entrance are antiquarian books, including a 28-volume Dickens’ Works, priced at $350, as well as a three-volume Encyclopedia Britannica. Hruska gets most of his stock from people who live in the Reno-Tahoe area. Buying books from individuals involves a delicate balancing act.

“I want to give everybody a fair price because then they’ll come back,” Hruska said. “If I don’t get people bringing me books, I don’t get anything to sell.”

Black & White Books has 40,000 to 45,000 books in its inventory, all priced at about half the cover price, with some—such as Lord of the Rings and the occasional Stephen King—going a little higher.

The Book Gallery

1203 Rock Blvd., Sparks, 356-8900

Phil Davis, 43, has been a bookseller for about six months, which is how long he’s owned The Book Gallery in Sparks. Before that, he sold advertising space for Channel 2.

“The Book Gallery was my first customer,” he said. “It was also one of my favorite accounts.”

Like The Paperback Exchange, The Book Gallery does a lot of trading. Unlike the Exchange, however, the Gallery also buys books. Recently, a woman came in carrying a box of hardbacks and paperbacks. After looking them over, Davis purchased the books for $15.

Since buying The Book Gallery, Davis has expanded its science fiction section and has begun concentrating on DVDs and VHS tapes. He’s trying to market to younger customers and has about 80,000 books and 2,000 movies and DVDs in his inventory.

“I’m seeing a trend toward audio books,” he said. “Truckers buy lots of them; they’re always asking for them.”

Sundance Bookstore

1155 W. Fourth St., 786-1188

For 18 years, Sundance Bookstore in Keystone Square has been Reno’s sole independent full-service bookstore, offering an alternative to such chains as Borders and Barnes & Noble. Like them, Sundance sells best-selling fiction and non-fiction, as well as more standard fare. Earlier this month, however, Sundance began selling used books alongside the new, something that stores are doing successfully in other cities.

Christine Kelly and Dan Earl own Sundance. Kelly said that several factors went into her decision to add used books to her shelves.

“I’m doing this because I think that there are a lot of great books out there that are no longer in print, that still need to be available,” she said.

“And, I’m a big fan of used books. They have a whole other mystique to them. They carry somebody else’s history, interests, feelings. That’s a purely emotional thing, but I like that. I like that this book has survived.”

Kelly has another reason for selling used books, however: the environment. She believes too many books are being published.

“There are an awful lot of books out there,” she said.

“There are consequences to hyper-publishing and then throwing out. We have limited resources, and I think it’s wasteful.”

5 Dog Books

906 Holcomb Ave., 322-1917

From the outside, the only thing that distinguishes the yellow Queen Anne-style house from its residential neighbors is a hard-to-read cast iron sign on its sloping lawn that reads: “5 Dog Books.” Inside, however, the differences are profound.

All manner of book-laden shelves fill its rooms, while original oils, prints and antique photos decorate the walls above them. Sculptures double as bookends.

Owner Manuel Simpson is lean, over 6 feet and has a face of polished leather. He started 5 Dog Books 23 years ago and has been at the same location for the last 19 of those. He came up with the name based on a photograph he’s hung above the entrance to the “living room” showing five different poses of the same dog.

The store’s stock leans toward books about the Great Basin and Americana, with an emphasis on Nevada history and works about American Indians. The shelves groan with literature and “an awful lot of philosophy.”

Capable of quoting from works by Mark Twain and Jorge Luis Borges (among others), it’s difficult to shake the feeling that Simpson has personally devoured each of 5 Dog’s 5,000 to 10,000 books.

“Used books are like a good meal," he said. "You always get more than you expected."