Used bookstores offer opportunity to those missing Borders

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Downtown Books offers a selectin from every genre. There are even friendly cats to welcome you. Photo by Emily Waller/ emily.waller@marquette.edu.

Our downtown Borders is closing.

And while it’s a shame to see it go, there are still options for the bookworms of Milwaukee to get their literary fix. Two in particular, Downtown Books and Renaissance Book Shop, are conveniently close to Marquette’s campus.

Downtown Books is the more transient of the two, having initially opened in 1991, moved to their current location at 327 E. Wisconsin Ave. in 1998 and now in the process of relocating around the corner down Broadway. The original store was only 700 square feet, while the current location has about 1,300 square feet of retail space and about the same in storage.

There is no wasted space in the store; both the first and second floor are lined with floor to ceiling shelving, and the free-standing bookshelves form narrow rows just wide enough for browsing that neatly organize the building.

Milwaukee native Keith Pajot, the owner of Downtown Books, said he decided to open his own place after working for someone else in the business.

“I’m not really a book collector, but I’m a book hunter, a book scout,” Pajot said. “That’s my main hobby.”

Pajot said the business obtains books through various methods. Most of their merchandise comes from charity book sales, but people occasionally bring in books to sell, and the staff will even make house calls if someone is either too lazy or unable to bring them in.

Renaissance Book Shop, 834 N. Plankinton, is similar to Downtown Books in that it carries used material from every area of literature, but it differs in size and organization.

Renaissance has a large space of three floors and a basement, filled with haphazardly organized piles and shelves. It is a booklover’s goldmine, but you have to be willing to do a little digging.

The shop has been in business since 1976, and its downtown location now doubles as a warehouse for the business’ second store at General Mitchell International Airport. Employees Blaine Wesselowski and Jeremy Mericle said the store’s inventory comes from a variety of sources, similar to Downtown Books.

Both Pajot and Wesselowski said there is typically about a lag of six months to a year between when new releases hit the shelves at stores like Borders and when they make their way over to their shops.

Pajot said he generally does not regard new bookstores as competition because they attract a different sort of clientele than used bookstores do, so he never felt threatened by Borders’ business. Borders even referred customers over to Downtown Books when they could not find what they were looking for at the larger retailer.

“Plus, someone has to buy the books new to begin with, so we were very disappointed to see Borders go,” Pajot said.

Wesselowski does not think Renaissance will meet the same fate as Borders, citing the steady business he has seen over the past eight years he has worked there as evidence that there is still a market for used books.

“I don’t think it’s going to affect us that much,” Wesselowski said. “But to see another business close is unfortunate.”

While Pajot is sad about Borders closing, he is not completely disheartened about the overall business of books. He cites new technology and the younger generation’s familiarity with reading literature off of a screen rather than on paper as the primary cause of the shift away from print media — raving himself about the convenience of his own e-book reader.

“I don’t think it (print media) is on its way out, but it definitely has diminished and will continue to,” Pajot said.

But he is confident the print business will not die completely because of the aesthetic value of a book’s hard copy.

“It’s like having a piece of art,” Pajot said. “You don’t want it on your computer, you want it on your wall.”

Wesselowski agreed with Pajot’s sentiment, saying hard copies last while technology does not. He said technology is constantly evolving, and no one can be sure the books people are downloading today will even be compatible with electronic devices in the future.

“We have books here that are hundreds of years old,” Wesselowski said. “There’s a durability to a book.”

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