By MICHAEL ANDERSON
Years ago, used bookstores were commonplace across America. Technology and its effect on our reading habits have caused them to become an endangered species.
Fortunately, Tucson is still blessed with several such stores. The crown jewel is The Book Stop on Fourth Avenue.
A large part of the appeal of used bookstores is the ability to browse through big selections of quality books, many of which have been out of print for years, and discover new interests.
“In a place like this, where you don’t know what you’re going to find, it’s serendipity,” Book Stop co-owner Claire Fellows said. “You may find something that you didn’t know was there and suddenly you decided that it interests you, as well as some of the other things.”
I readily identify with that sentiment. I once went on a two-year reading binge on mountaineering history after a chance encounter with a copy of John Krakauer’s “Into Thin Air,” a riveting account of a 1996 tragedy on Mount Everest.
The encounter came when I happened to be shelving it at a used bookstore where I worked.
After I opened the book and read the first page, I was hooked. I now own a small library on the topic.
“The Internet tries to figure out what it is you want and steer you toward that,” Fellows said. “A place like this broadens your vision.”
The Book Stop has been serving Tucson since 1967, when it opened on Campbell Avenue.
Fellows, a Rincon High School graduate, began working there while earning her art degree from the University of Arizona.
“I got a part-time job when I was at school and it just seemed to suit me, so I stuck with it,” she said.
Fellows and another employee, Tina Bailey, bought the store from the second owner in the mid-1990s.
They have owned it ever since.
In 2007, they faced a large rent increase and moved the store to its present location.
The recent streetcar line construction was very difficult for the owners, but things seem to be looking up.
“It was horrid. It was terrible,” Fellows said.
She believes, however, that the streetcar project will have longterm benefits.
“It will be good for the community and a lot of people are getting used to the idea of coming back,” she said.
Customers seem to appreciate the owners’ efforts.
UA graduate student Matt Harder was pleasantly surprised to find The Book Stop when he arrived in Tucson recently from Georgia.
“I like getting older versions of books and I wonder who might’ve had it before. Was it a professor, another student?” Harder said. “I’d rather get them here than Amazon or another online vendor.”
The Book Stop is a fun place to browse, as it is well stocked in seemingly every genre. It also offers related ephemera such as vintage train schedules, maps and old postcards. It has a large, very well organized selection of books, ranging from out-of-print classics to modern standards. The inventory is priced fairly and is in good condition.
Fellows and Bailey are happy to buy or trade for books that they need and are in good shape. Both owners are very friendly and knowledgeable, and will be glad to assist customers in finding a book, or even tracking one down if they don’t have it in stock.
Used bookstores are an important part of America’s literary past, and it is a shame how few are left. Tucson has a top-notch one in The Book Stop and I encourage you to shop there to give the store reason to stay open. If we lose the ones we have, it is unlikely that they will be replaced. That will be a tremendous loss for us all.
Now that the construction crews have left Fourth Avenue and the dust has finally settled, do yourself a favor and head down to The Book Stop. You won’t be disappointed.