13 September 2012

Thrift store review: Friends of the Free Library's shops

Quick note today to mention a wonderful resource from the Free Library of Philadelphia, which traces its origins not to Benjamin Franklin but to a doctor and his wealthy uncle in the late 19th century. I'm not highlighting the Free Library itself, though every urban home economist in Philadelphia should have a card and use it often. Rather, I want to mention the Free Library's two bookstores, where the Friends of the Free Library unload gently used books at prices way below what you'll find in for-profit used-book stores.

The Book Corner, at 311 North 20th Street (at Wood Street), is farther away from the Rowhouse Livin' homestead, so we don't get there too frequently. But The Next Page, at 722 Chestnut Street (two blocks west of Independence Hall) is a lot closer. And dig it! Just this week, I picked up a copy of Freakonomics, a book I've flipped through before but wanted a permanent copy of at home.

I also found a popular historyabout colonialism in Africa. This book was published in 1998, and I think I learned about it three years ago. I didn't want to pay retail for it, and, like Freakonomics, I wanted a permanent copy for my bookshelf. (See, this is the kind of thing that passes for pleasure reading here at Rowhouse Livin'. Sad!) So I put it on my List: that is, The List of Books to Search For Every Time I Go to a Used-Book Store. Freakonomics was on The List, too. And I finally found them!

The Next Page on Chestnut Street is organized by topic, and the shelves are neat and clean. Unlike a neighborhood used-book store -- which I love, don't get me wrong -- you won't find jumbled, disordered stacks of books, dusty shelves, underlit passageways, or cats. Now, I really do love me a good neighborhood used-book store. But you can't use them for a "surgical strike" to find a particular book, unless you're looking for a dictionary or a Harry Potter. Of course, at The Next Page you won't be able to kill as much time as you would at another store, because what The Next Page gains in neatness, it sacrifices in depth and breadth.

That said, the prices are right at the Friends of the Free Library shops, because the books are donated. The shops operate as a fundraising arm for the Free Library, not as a revenue stream for a bookseller trying to make a living. So they can sell beautiful old editions of Nancy Drew volumes, or 19th-century antique books in excellent condition for a fraction of what you see in for-profit shops.

Hope you try the two Friends of the Free Library shops soon. Lovely resource, great cause, winning prices.

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