The best book store in the known universe

Just returned from a relaxing (read: frantic) holiday in Zinzinnati, the Queen City of Ohio. During our stay, we made a day trip to our old stomping grounds: the capital city, Columbus (motto: “Yes, we start with a C, and we’re in Ohio, but we are neither Cincinnati nor Cleveland!”)

When last we left this midsize Midwestern city, I was happy to see it in my rear view mirror. We had spent the previous three years with my wife in graduate school and me doing the corporate office thing. We’d had a few friends, but we weren’t the most social creatures, and Columbus always felt like a city to be gotten away from, to be hurdled. When the moving van pulled out, it was headed for Chicago, and that felt right.

Amazing, then, to return and discover I missed the town more than I knew. For starters, in an age when many cities of its size are curling up and drying out, Columbus is actually spiffing up and putting on a happy face. Could it actually be growing? The rough-around-the-edges High Street, running from campus through the Short North, looked bright, clean and thriving. An entire new district — an Arena District, at that — has grown like barnacle on downtown; a lively, well-lit barnacle. The bars and restaurants bustled on a Monday night. Our old neighborhood, the quaint Old World streets of German Village, looked homey and cozy as ever, reminding me of the long, contented strolls we used to take down those cobbled streets. (“Oh!” we said to our kids. “This is the place where Mommy and Daddy would always pass Chicken, the cat who thought he was a dog! Here’s where we watched free Shakespeare in the Park!” I was not looking at the children’s faces during such reminiscences, but I am sure they were riveted.)

Then we rolled past our old hot spot, a much loved nook on Third Street, and it dawned on me how much I missed this city. We had already noticed that Cup O Joe, our favorite little coffee and dessert haunt had spawned multiple franchises around town, all of which looked hopping. Good for them! The original location on Third had grown, too, adding a bar and restaurant area, but retaining that comfy sitting area and familiar barrista counter. (Two separate games of Scrabble were being waged in the seating area that night! May I remind you: It was Monday!) Amazingly, a Starbucks had moved in across the way, and it was deserted! So much for the “Starbucks effect.”

Even better than our old coffee shop was the establishment next door, which had not changed an ounce. Not that I would have wished it to. The Book Loft. Seriously the most supremely fun book store in which you will ever spend an evening’s browse.

The Book Loft, 631 S. Thrid Street, Columbus, Ohio

The Book Loft, 631 S. Third Street, Columbus, Ohio

I’ve read about great local bookstores in other cities, places like Tattered Cover in Denver (been there; a nice joint, sure), or Powell’s in Portland. But man, you just cannot beat a walk up to, into and through the Book Loft, a crowded bazaar of 32 rooms and hallways each no bigger than the pantry in your Aunt Ethel’s upstate cottage, stuffed to the gills with books, music, comics and other geegaws booklovers love to love. A bibliophile with claustrophobia would forget his psychosis in an instant if the reward were a trip through the Book Loft’s maze of wares.

The photos on their web site don’t do it justice — you just can’t get far enough back with a camera to cram it all in — but I find this map of their store to be a little more illuminating:

I'm not even sure all the stairs line up on this map; it's like some kind of Narnia wardrobe in there!

You can see the place is busy, chockablock with nooks, and goodies inside those nooks. Every inch is taken up with merchandise, and browsing the corridors and grottos can feel like a spelunk into a colorful cave or an archaeological dig through the lost library of Alexandria.

I can’t believe I lived so close to something so cool, and I willingly moved away.

The kids shared our awe as we made our rounds through the store. It would be so much more satisfying to spark a love of reading by taking my children here instead of our antiseptic chains. We all picked up books at the Loft, including a “Children of Hurin” for me at a nicely discounted $4.99 on a $15 paperback! (The Book Loft isn’t just a pretty face; it flaunts gaudy price discounts like a used car dealer. I love this place!)

I’ll include the Book Loft Web site here, with the warning that if you judge by the Web 1.0 site itself, you may confuse it  with a Pigeon Forge tourist attraction. It’s a bit loud and tacky, and it even forces a music track on you with no volume control. (Then again, that’s like shopping in the Loft, too, since many of the rooms feature samples of music warbling from boom boxes tucked into the shelves. When we were there, Holst’s The Planets was on a loop in the sci-fi/fantasy room, for example, so it’s really part of their charm.)

Instead of bolting from this site’s hurly-burly, click the Tour Our Store link to get a better idea of the wonderland that awaits you when you book your next vacation in colossal Columbus, Ohio.


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3 responses to “The best book store in the known universe

  1. Brian

    I haven’t had the pleasure of entering The Book Loft. I look forward to it someday, somehow. Thanks for the recommend!

    And one right back at you: The Moravian Book Store in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. They claim to be the oldest bookstore in the world. And while I don’t know about that, I do know that it is a great pleasure to stroll through and discover it first hand.

    Don’t judge it by the lame website…

    You’ve got to see it for yourself someday!

    • jdrewscott

      I’ll put it on my radar. Of course, it ain’t exactly next door to Hershey, which is my next best likelihood of driving to the Keystone State … What brought *you* there?

  2. Brian

    It was actually a family trip to Hershey that brought us to the Moravian Book Store.

    We did a side-trip to the Crayola Factory in Easton while we were in PA for the week. And on that side-trip, we did a side-side-trip to Bethlehem with a friend of ours who grew up there. Never would have found that bookstore otherwise.

    Bonus tangent:
    Another surprise from that trip: on the drive from Chicago, we spotted an article talking about the United Flight 93 Memorial in western Pennsylvania. On an impulse, we left the interstate and found the site in the rolling hills. Although our kids were too young to connect with what happened on 9/11, we found it to be one of the most memorable experiences we’ve ever had. I don’t know what that memorial is like now, but back in 2007, it had a real home-made feel to it with a lot of personal items, remembrances and notes everywhere. I can still remember our then 5 year old daughter counting all the “angels” that were lining the memorial site, one for each victim.

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