Vanishing America: A Great, General Used Book Store

The Bookman – Orange, CA

The Bookman Exterior Orange CA

In the middle of a strip mall on the perpetually sun-baked streets of Orange CA, stands The Bookman. It is a survivor of an earlier era when real used and second-hand book stores dotted the landscape.

Today there are generally five types of stores that feature used books in the United States:

1) The kind that don’t really have used books, but houses remainders and have half -price or books for a buck newer titles.

2) Shops that specialize in paperbacks, romances and other extremely common books.

3) Thrift stores and antique malls that have a dealer or a section devoted to a hodge-podge of books.

4) High end shops that have a limited selection in antiquarian or specialty titles devoted to one subject such as transportation or culinary.

5) The dwindling general, used, second-hand and rare bookstore where perusing is a joy. It is where old books, some long out-of-print wait to be discovered as someone’s new found treasure.

When I am visiting any town in the world, I actively seek out the fifth type of shop. The internet and sites like Yelp are usually no help in discovering the types of books a shop carries, as most casual customers rating used bookshops are usually just looking for reading copies at good prices. They do not describe when stores are carrying unusual or older titles not readily available or the quantity or quality of a bookstore’s stock.

Orange County, south and east of Los Angeles, used to have many of these types of first rate used bookshops that held the promise of finding a long sought after book, and one by one these shops have vanished. They were victims of rising rents, a shrinking reading public, geriatric dealers who retired or died and most importantly, changing technology.

As anyone who loves or collects old books knows, the internet has wreaked havoc on the general used open bookshop. You can search, browse and read online. Downloading a book takes a few seconds. Many of the books in the public domain (published before 1923) are available for free.

For a used bookstore owner to operate an open shop in the 21st century is quickly becoming an endangered way of making a living.

In Orange County, The Book Baron, (the amazing) Bertrand Smith’s Acres of Books, Nix Books and many other quality used bookshops closed their doors over the past 15 years.

The Bookman Interior 3The Bookman (840 N. Tustin Ave., Orange CA), is a throwback to the days when you would walk into a used bookstore without a particular book in mind to purchase, and walk out owning several interesting titles you never knew existed.

For over 20 years co-owners Paul Bonaventure and David Hess have neatly stocked a roomy space with books in just about every subject area you can imagine.

The Bookman Interior 2Many of the books in the shop are listed on their web site, but many are not. It is the sort of place that unless you are searching for only one particular book or one subject area, you should give yourself a couple of hours to scan the shelves, as there are a myriad of old, out-of-print books that you will want to own.

The Bookman Collectible CaseThe prices are excellent with many titles running in the $5- $15 range. The store is well organized and deep in many areas such as Fiction, Americana, Art, Sports, and Performing Arts. They do have newer books as well and a large section devoted to paperbacks. There is even a selection of rare titles, so you never know what long sought after gem you might find.

Any bibliophile will find The Bookman is definitely worth a visit.

The “Vanishing America” series is about institutions and establishments that are surviving, even as many of their counterparts are disappearing from the United States.

3 thoughts on “Vanishing America: A Great, General Used Book Store

  1. Jacque Howard

    I love the Bookman. It is right down the street from me. Whenever I have books to donate to the library or Goodwill, I always make a stop there first. If they are interested in my books they will take them and give me credit on my own future purchases. I feel great about leaving my books there, knowing someone may purchase them, enjoy them, pass them on, etc. And I am continuing the cycle to help keep this dying cultural Necessity alive. Vinyl is making a big cultural comeback. Millennials long for a connection to a past they barely understand. Perhaps paper books will follow this trend. I sincerely hope so. There used to be this great bookstore in Manhattan. Think it was on 2nd. Ave. Devoted to the mystery/ true crime genre. It was wonderful. I’m afraid to even guess whether it’s still there. The hours of browsing. My word.

  2. Sue Jorgenson

    This place is literally a treasure trove! I almost never walk out empty-handed, and on the very rare occasions that I do, just being IN there, surrounded by the books and their unique scent, is bliss in and of itself.

    1. Art

      A nicely written article. As a regular patron of used book stores for over three decades, I love The Bookman. It’s a survival of a dying breed, particularly in a cultural wasteland such as Orange County. A tip of my hat to Bookman’s noble owners, for keeping their doors open!


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