There are few better ways to spend a Saturday afternoon than lazily browsing a used bookstore. Thankfully there are many places in Edmonton to enjoy this indulgent activity. Recently I visited four of them.
The Edmonton Bookstore 10533 82 Ave.
Everything about this store is calming, classy, and comfortable. Gentle classical music was playing, interspersed with the soothing voice of a British radio announcer. The books were all in very good condition, neatly lined up, without anything out of place. The long wooden counter and the row of green triangular lamps hanging above it reminded me of an old library, with the dusty smell of aging books adding to the feeling. Prominently displayed near the door are extensive collections on Shakespeare and ancient history and as I explored further I found a large section about Alberta and “Local Interest.” The store was easy to navigate, and the occasional antique or stained glass lamp added to the charm. While I did find a graphic novel (Habibi by Craig Thompson) that was being sold for more than the cover price, prices were generally quite reasonable given the quality of the books: $15-20 for hardcover novels and $10-15 for softcovers, with prices going up significantly from there for rare and oversized books.
Alhambra Books 10115 81 Ave.
This store is the perfect place to come if you’re looking for a good story. A wall of paperback science fiction novels greet patrons at the door and lead into the extensive general fiction section, which stretches down one long wall and across the back. While the books aren’t always pristine, they are in good shape, and the prices range a bit more with softcover novels starting at $4 and hardcovers selling for up to $20. I really appreciated how specific the labels on the shelves were: creativity, leadership and stress management were much more descriptive than health and psychology. Accordion music on Radio Canada added a certain adventurous energy to the experience, as did the Che Guevara flag and the large world map decorating the walls.
The Book Seller 9562 82 Ave.
I was expecting more of a look-but-don’t-touch vibe, as this store was advertised as specializing in rare books and collectibles, but I found it had a very different feel indeed. The selections are quite jumbled, with books piled, seemingly at random, on top of others. The $2 shelf was a welcome sight and put me in a bargain-hunting state of mind. I was amused to see a shelf of old Nancy Drew novels sandwiched between Hunting/Fishing and Aviation. The fiction section leaned heavily towards the classics, which were priced the lowest of any of the stores at $4-6 for softcover and $6-15 for hardcover. This was the first place that I noticed a section devoted to kids’ books, and I spotted Archie comics and Manga as well.
Mandolin Books 6419 112 Ave.
The only one of my four choices not in the Whyte Avenue area, this charming store in Highlands is well worth the trip. Doubling as a coffee shop that serves up local Catfish coffee and handmade treats, it has an airy, sunny quality and is a lovely spot to read or chat with friends while breathing in the smell of ground coffee and enjoying peaceful folk music. Their patio looks like it would be a treat in the summer. It’s a small space, but the books are very carefully chosen for their relevance and quality. Local art for sale (including paintings, ceramics, cards, and sock monkeys) adds to the shopping experience. A shelf dedicated to local authors (check out the book Milk Bottles of Alberta) further illustrates their commitment to their community. The box of toys at the back next to a selection of kids’ books and young adult novels make it clear that all ages are welcome.