The Bookies of GR

The notion of technology taking over all print mediums has been thrown out the door in several bookshops in the central city of Grand Rapids. In fact, the only thing collecting dust next to the rare, used, and sometime new books on the shelves of local dealers is that concept alone.

There are a handful of specialty shops that share some commonality; all are locally owned, all have a tremendous amount of knowledge confined in a relatively small place, and all welcome book mavericks. None of these bookshops plan to go anywhere soon. In fact, several owners say they’re just getting started.

James Bleeker recently took ownership of Argos Bookshop after working at the popular dealer for 20 years. The store, which is located at 1405 Robinson Road SE, has operated in Eastown for 30 years.

With 60,000 books and 90,000 comic on the shelves, Argos is one of the largest used bookstores in the city. The majority of the books in the shop are rare and used, with some expensive collectible items. But Argos also offers thousands of inexpensive books that cost an average of $3.50. Popular authors such as Kurt Vonnegut, Ernest Hemingway, John Steinbeck, and J.R.R. Tolkien sell best, according to Bleeker.

Creaky old wood floors make the place feel like a cozy old attic. And stacks upon stacks of book-, magazine-, and comic book-filled boxes in the center of the store keep customers busy for hours. So far, Bleeker said, business is good.

“Right now, my goal is to keep the store open and be profitable,” he said.

Argos is open Monday through Saturday, 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. and Sunday, noon to 3:00 p.m.

Redux Books is located at 1349 Lake Drive SE, just two doors down from Argos. Clarence Hogeterp has owned the store for five years and said his two-floor shop houses some 30,000 books. Redux is an antiquarian bookshop, which means they specialize in old and rare books, an area of expertise for Hogeterp.

“I’ve collected books all my life,” he said. “My wife finally said it was me or the books. So they had to go.”

Redux offers a wide selection of children books, signed first editions, unsigned first editions and leather-bound. Categories include biography, children, fiction, history, literature, military, Netherlands, recent arrivals, religion, and more. Prices range anywhere from $3 to thousands of dollars. They also carry paperbacks.

“We have a very eclectic bunch of books,” said Hogeterp, who retired from a career in financial planning and now dedicates more than 50 hours a week in the shop. “We have a smattering of everything, but we are more heavily invested in antiquarian books.”

Redux is open Monday through Friday, 10:00 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. and Saturdays, 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.

Book Corral, located at 2460 Plainfield Avenue NE in the Creston-Cheshire neighborhood, offers more than 50,000 books. The store has operated in the city for approximately 25 years, 16 of those under current ownership.

The store focuses heavily on sci-fi and used paperbacks. But customers will also find a wide selection of general fiction, mysteries, and romance novels. Popular items include the Harlequin Series and well-known authors such as Louie Lamour, Nora Roberts, and Debbie Macomber.

Book Corral is open 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. on Mondays and Tuesdays, 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. Wednesdays through Fridays, and 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. on Saturdays.

The stores listed above do not advertise a trading policy. Although several owners said they’re willing to deal for worthwhile items. But there is one bookshop where bartering and exchanging for titles is standard practice.

The Book Swap is located at 4360 South Division on the fringe of Grand Rapids. Marcia Bouma has owned and operated the store for 33 years. And customers can buy, sell, and trade everything from bestsellers, children, romance, sci-fi, suspense, westerns, and many more.

“Some friends and I started the business but they moved shortly after the store opened,” said Bouma, who recently turned 65 and plans to retire in the coming years. “All of us were teachers and wanted something to do in the summertime.”

Book Swap gives off a library-like atmosphere, complete with an old, oversized wooden desk in the front, and a smiling lady behind it ready to help. The store contains some 20,000 books and prices range from 70 cents to $8.20 for popular authors such as Nora Roberts and Stephen King.

The store is open 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Tuesday through Friday and 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. on Saturdays.

River Bank Books opened in December 2005 and is the relative newcomer serving downtown booklovers. The family-run retailer, located at 86 Monroe Center NW, is certainly a change of pace from the other bookshops. Unlike the gently used collections housed at the stores discussed above, there is not a single used book in sight at River Bank. In fact, Paul Lambers, the owner’s son and salary manager, said their competition is Barnes & Nobles and Schuler Books.

The store houses 20,000 books covering all subjects. Aside from books galore, River Bank showcases live music on Fridays and a poetry slam on Saturdays. They host an open mic for children the last Saturday of every month and a story hour on Saturdays from noon to 1 p.m.

“We get an author to come in and read books to the children while we give them milk and cookies,” Lambers said.

River Bank has a contemporary vibe and seats some 50 people. The store also has a café, wireless Internet service, and a fireplace. Eventually the business will expand to incorporate a separate textbook division downstairs for new and used books.

River Bank Books is open 10:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. on Sunday.

Photographs by Brian Kelly - All Rights Reserved
Image descriptions top to bottom:

Exterior of Redux Books - Eastown

James Bleeker, owner of Argos Books - Eastown

"Trouble" the store cat at Argos Books - Eastown

A stuffed version of Redux Books owner Clarence Hogeterp - Eastown

Rare comic books at Argos Books - Eastown

Signed copy of To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee - Redux Books

Interior of Riverbank Books - Center City

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