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Books, Salt Lake City

The Bookstores of Salt Lake City

We took a tour of Salt Lake City bookstores last weekend. With the rise of online book shopping, the book scene isn’t quite what it was when I was younger, but there are still some holdout independent booksellers in the area who can provide all sorts of gems if you know where to look.

I didn’t get out to all of the bookstores in SLC – we skipped the ones that are faith-focused and didn’t make it to the new age stores in the area that offer reasonably large selections of books in the new age genre. I also skipped a couple of boutiques that have healthy book selections (for example: The Children’s Hour at 9th and 9th) because we were looking for “books only”.

Just to cover my bases, I should tell you that we buy more books at thrift stores (like Deseret Industries) than anywhere else because the charity turnover in Salt Lake is crazy and you have a good shot of picking up a New York Times bestseller at any given time. However, we didn’t visit the D.I. for this project since those are neither bookstores nor pleasant shopping experiences. (Typically thrift store smell if you know what I mean.)

Also, I cheated and started with a bookstore that isn’t even in Salt Lake. Because…well, you’ll see. Ok, let’s begin:

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The Book Garden
2 North Main Street
Bountiful, Utah

The Book Garden is up in Bountiful, which is about a ten minute drive from downtown Salt Lake City, but I had to include it in the SLC roundup because it’s exactly what you think of when you think of finding a little independent bookseller. This shop is pretty teeny but the shelves are positively crammed with used books.

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The Book Garden takes books on trade so on the Saturday we went there were quite a few people coming in with boxes of books in the hopes of getting some credit and I feel like they do have a lot of stock coming in and out. That being said, it’s a chaotic and tight interior and only organized in the most general of senses (nothing alphabetized and books are divided into genre according to bookseller whim). We always find some happy gems in the children’s section up front, though, and the pricing is reasonable. If you have kids who need chapter books or classics for school, this would be a good place to visit…so long as you’re prepared to dig.

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Eborn Books
254 S. Main Street
Salt Lake City, Utah

Eborn Books took over the Main Street location where Sam Weller’s Zion Bookstore used to be. I worked at Weller’s for almost three years in college and loved it madly, but we rarely visit the store anymore because the change of hands wasn’t very kind to the building. However, the Coffee Garden space at the front of the store is delightful and remains my favorite place to get coffee downtown so if you want a place to sit and visit, I recommend it.

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As for Eborn Books, the method behind their madness remains a mystery to me. They have a fair amount of stock in the building and categories are clearly labeled but the shelves are more chaotic than you think they’d be given how much space they have. My biggest problem with the store, however, is that it isn’t a pleasant shopping experience. The space itself is always lacking when we go in there (carpets torn and in need of a good Dyson, lightbulbs that flicker on and off if they work at all, half empty cups jammed in between books on the shelves) and every five feet there’s another sign that reminds you to check your bag so you don’t steal anything.

I completely understand dealing with an old building, since I battled the exact same dust ten years ago, and I know how much of a problem shoplifting and customers littering used to be. I could even handle dirty if the books I wanted were easy to find or chaos if the people selling them seemed excited to be there or checking my bag if the place felt charming and welcoming anyway. But I can’t do all three just because the coffee place up front is good, especially when it’s $4 to park in the garage out back.

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Ken Sanders Rare Books
268 S 200 E
Salt Lake City, Utah

Ken Sanders is a rare book store located in a small building within walking distance of Salt Lake’s beautiful downtown library. True to their name, they only deal with used books (with a little art and ephemera thrown in) and the buyers are particular here so you’re much more likely to find ten awesome books you’ve never heard of than a used copy of that one book everyone has.

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I like shopping at Ken Sanders because I have a soft spot for unusual vintage titles and the people who work there know an unreasonable amount of stuff about their merchandise so they’re more helpful about knowing what they have in stock. Personally, I stick to the bins of vintage postcards and their small children’s section so I don’t even browse through the really rare stuff but if you’re looking for something very special and hard to find, this would be a good place to start.

Fair warning: this is definitely the “cool” place to buy books in Salt Lake City so you might have to duck in between young people taking pictures of themselves or each other or the books, etc., while you browse. We ran into 5-6 cameras on Saturday alone. Oh, and don’t take your toddler unless you have someone who can trade off dragging your kid outside while you browse. This isn’t that kind of store.

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Weller Book Works
607 Trolley Square,
Salt Lake City, Utah

Weller Book Works is the new name/location for Sam Weller’s Zion Bookstore. Again, I used to work here so my review of this store might be a little biased but this isn’t a store you can miss if you’re checking out the book scene in Salt Lake City.

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Weller Book Works stocks both used and new books and they’re mixed together so you’ll be able to browse all of their stock by genre without moving to different parts of the store. The exception to this is their rare book room, which is upstairs and definitely the best part of the shop. They always have someone staffed in the rare book room who can help you with whatever you’re looking for.

I personally prefer their old space to the new one, which has very high ceilings, cement floors, and the general vibe of browsing in a Costco. We always leave with books in hand but I admit that it’s hard to spend as much time browsing in the new location because it just doesn’t feel like the kind of place you can hang out for hours in. It’s a million times cleaner than the old store, though, and has the advantage of being located in Trolley Square which makes it a good stop if you have some time for window shopping.

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King’s English Bookstore
1511 S 1500 E
Salt Lake City, Utah

King’s English is our neighborhood bookstore and my personal favorite in the city. It’s located in a little house that has been cleverly converted into a tidy shop with an incredible selection of books. The stock here is 98% new with the occasional exception for something exceptional or signed or both.

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The real gem of the bookstore, in my opinion, is their large children’s book area which is tended with so much love that I don’t even mind paying full price for books that I could buy on Amazon for less. I confess to using new bookstores as something of a showroom for books I want to eventually buy on Amazon, but King’s English is so cute and the staff is so good at what they do that we make it a point to shop here and support this little local business.

Bonus: their events and book clubs are not to be missed so check their calendar or subscribe to their newsletter for updates.

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Central Book Exchange
2017 S 1100 E
Salt Lake City, Utah

Central Book Exchange is located not far from King’s English in the shopping district at Sugarhouse. More importantly, it’s located a stone’s throw from the big Barnes and Noble for this part of the city and the people who shop Sugarhouse are the kind of people who would make it a point to shop local instead of big box, giving this tiny store a serious location advantage.

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The Morgans are a house divided when it comes to this shop. Kyle feels like they have a good selection of new books with lots of current titles and less dust/dirt/grime than some of the other book shops dealing with used merchandise. I feel like the pricing is a little off and just high enough to make me want to put all the books back and shop for used copies in my Amazon app.

Part of that is because of their dual pricing system – they take trades but then you earn points which count toward the book AND you still have to pay a certain price OR you just pay a higher price without points, so you end up trying to figure out if the $10 book you just brought in which earned you 2 points and means you now only pay $9 vs. $13 for this book was a good deal or if you just practically donated a book and bought another book anyway. What??? I don’t get it. Point me in the direction of the Barnes and Noble.

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Frost’s Books
1980 E 2700 S
Salt Lake City, Utah

Ok, if there’s a bookstore I really don’t understand, this one would be it. Frost’s Books is confusing because I really really want to like it. It’s fairly close to where we live, it’s small, it’s independent, and it’s kitty corner from the best Jewish deli I’ve ever been to outside of Ann Arbor, Michigan. That’s like a whole book romance waiting to happen.

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So what is happening??

I think my problem with this store is that I really want it to be a little used book store and it’s not. Theoretically that’s not something I can really hold against them, but something about going into a tight chaotic space and realizing that you’re just looking at new books (full price) and a bunch of discount books (remainders other stores couldn’t sell)…I don’t know. It’s not welcoming. It’s confusing. It reminds me of being at a book fair held at the local elementary school. You want to be supportive but it’s all kind of expensive and everything smells like old gum.

I’m going to keep visiting on occasion just because it’s here and I’m here and why not, but if you’re visiting the city and you don’t have time to hit every bookstore on my list, miss this one first.

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Dr. Volt’s Comic Connection
2043 3300 S
Salt Lake City, Utah

This is an honorable mention, since it isn’t really a bookstore, but as the hands-down best place to get comics in Salt Lake City, I felt like it needed to be on the list. The store is small but it has all the stock you need if you’re into comics, graphic novels, etc., and the people who work there are the nicest geeks in town. They know a little about everything and a lot about most of the mainstream fandoms plus they always have people playing games, eating snacks, and talking toys. If your inner teenage boy wants to come out to play, this is where you should be.

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