Out and About: A bookstore bonanza

Inspired by a new player in the local bookstore scene, the Current decided to visit the four bookstores on campus to see what each had to offer.

The Last Word

The newest bookstore on campus has, on average, the oldest books for sale. It’s because all the stock there is used.

The Last Word opened June 17, and still looks freshly minted with its unpainted wood bookshelves, old sofa in a reading area in the back and plenty of space for more books or perhaps a coffee bar.

Window displays included “Mondo Boxo” by New Yorker cartoonist Roz Chast, a Harry Potter book, and “Historic Houses of Philadelphia.”

Owner Larry Maltz (C’85), who has been in the used book business for 12 years (he used to manage the Book Trader on South Street), said he buys as well as sells. He usually pays 10 percent of the cover price for used books.

The Last Word is the only bookstore on campus that does not stock books for courses.

EXTRAS: Maltz, a bluegrass musician (playing dobro), said he hopes to have music Friday nights or sometimes Saturdays.

- 3925 Walnut St., 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday to Saturday, noon to 10 p.m Sunday

The Penn Bookstore

This Barnes & Noble-run bookstore is a mix between an academic bookstore and a book superstore, suggested Director of Marketing Christine Hibbard. What the store sells best is trade fiction. “Our bestseller list tends to mirror the independent bookstore bestseller list,” Hibbard said, although she did boast about the store’s broad range of academic subjects.

The day we strolled by, we found three windows with Penn and Philadelphia books, one window featuring books labeled “African American Interest,” and other windows featuring cookbooks, books for elementary school students and biographical works on pop-culture icons like Judy Garland. Scattered throughout the store are comfy chairs for reading.

EXTRAS: With regular readings for adults and children, the store also features a large CD section, dorm supplies, magazines, Penn insignia products and a coffee bar.

- 3601 Walnut St., 8:30 a.m. to 11 p.m Monday to Friday, 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. Saturday and 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday

A House of Our Own

Just when you think this offbeat bookstore in what used to be a house couldn’t hold another volume, cartons arrive narrowing the hallways.

Proud of being off the beaten track, owners Debbie Sanford (CGS’71) and Greg Schirm are best known for their history, social sciences and political theory offerings. Even their fiction is organized in a political pattern, with sections including Caribbean, Middle Eastern, South Asian, and Southeast Asian fiction. All told, they’ve got more than 300 categories, said Sanford.

The used books section upstairs, however, has fiction organized by author from A to Z.

EXTRAS: Sale tables are constantly replenished. Unless you count the garden out front and the balcony on the second floor, this place is all about the books and ideas.

- 3920 Spruce St., 9 a.m. to 11 p.m. Monday to Friday, 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. Saturday, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday

Pennsylvania Book Center

The granddaddy of all the local stores—this one has been on campus for 40 years—“won’t sell you Danielle Steele,” said employee Bill Greene.

A sign in the windows suggests that collections you might not find elsewhere include human settlement and landscape, religion and science and museum studies.

The offbeat children’s books and volumes of poetry also suggest a home for inquiring minds.

“We’re geared to an academic audience,” said Greene. Like House of Our Own, they’ve got a loyal faculty following.

EXTRAS: The sale tables out front are a constant bonus. No other extras are needed because of the books, books and more books.

- 130 S. 34th St., 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday to Friday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday

Originally published on September 5, 2002