A Book Procurement

Last week I was searching for some information on a science fiction author. The author wrote only one novel but many short stories, so I found a lot of science fiction collections and anthologies along with lists of stories which appeared in various SF digests. Naturally there were links.

One link led me to The Penguin Science Fiction Omnibus edited by Brian Aldiss, which, you will remember, was one of the books in my most recent new arrivals post. The book sounded good so I searched for a copy and was pleased to discover one available very nearby, about six miles away, in Tualatin. It was listed as being only in “acceptable” condition, but for a buck that’s fine as all I wanted was a reading copy.

So off I went. I’ve driven by the street that led to the street this place is on many dozens of times but never turned that way and certainly had no idea there was a used book store there! As I approached the address I was surprised to find only small warehouses for tool companies, an outfit selling pottery to nurseries, a paper vendor and the like. Seemed like a strange place for a used book store, but I thought must be cheap rent and crept along looking for River City Books.

I found the address. No sign. A couple of parking places next to a dumpster shared with another business. A No Solicitors sign taped on the front door. I parked and went in.

River City Books is a used book store, but not in the usual sense. I guess the best way to describe it would be that it’s a used book fulfillment center. There was a woman sitting at a cluttered desk about five feet inside the door, looking at a computer screen. To the left were two other people doing the same thing. The rest of the roughly 30×40 foot space was filled with metal shelving, each shelf holding several low-sided cardboard boxes filled with books. book slip 1A small oblong of paper stuck out from each book, printed with a number at the top and beneath it a bar code. Beyond the room I could see a much larger warehouse to one side and another in another direction, along with stairs leading up. The place hummed with activity. The woman looked up when I entered and said hello.

“Is this mail order only?” I innocently asked, my hopes of buying the single, cheap paperback evaporating.

“Yes.” But she smiled as if waiting for more so I gave it to her.

“I saw a listing for a book on ABE, and realized you’re only a couple of miles from my house, and thought I could just come here and buy it.” I tried to look hopeful.

She sighed. “What is the book?” So I gave her the title, editor and publisher and she looked it up. Her printer spit out another one of those little slips of paper.

She sighed again. “It would have to be all the way at the top,” she said, “I’ll have to try to find a lift, I think one is working.” She gave me a half smile, got up and disappeared through the door in the back, towards the stairs. Meanwhile the rest of the staff kept busy filling boxes with books of all sorts; paperbacks, hard covers, trade paper, you name it. A young guy, probably college age, looked up and said “Now you see what the business is like.”

“It’s not what I expected.” I answered.

Soon the woman came back and handed me the book. I checked the table of contents and copyright pages to make sure it was the one I wanted, as it had a different cover. It was the right book. I asked her if I had to pay the shipping anyway, she shook her head and told me “no,  just give me a dollar,” which I did. She stuck the slip of paper into the book and handed it to me.

“I guess next time I need to order on line.” I said.

Well, yes.” She hesitated. “Or you could call me.” she added as she wrote the store phone number down on a slip of paper. “Just remind whoever answers that you’ve been in and bought books before.”

About Rick Robinson

Enjoying life in Portland, OR
This entry was posted in At Home in Portland, books, science fiction and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

20 Responses to A Book Procurement

  1. That is so wild. Cool that you had a little adventure and made a connection, especially as it can save you on shipping and you can actually go down and make sure it is the book you want.

  2. Richard, weren’t you tempted to go through the cardboard boxes filled with books? Thanks for sharing this “story”. Buying books like this beats mail order any day.

  3. Joachim Boaz says:

    Resurrected Press released a collection of H. B. Fyfe’s short stories a few years back.


  4. Richard says:

    Carl, yes, but it was obvious they were reluctant to have “walk-ins”. I wouldn’t go on a regular basis, though I might search their website.

  5. Richard says:

    Prashant, I wasn’t tempted for a couple of reasons: they were filled with books of all genres and types, from non-fiction how to books to bodice rippers to old best sellers. I didn’t spot many mystery or SF books in the few I could see, and also there were hundreds and hundreds of them and I had the impression the public wasn’t allowed in that area.

  6. Richard says:

    Joachim, yes, I got it just a few days ago, it will be in next week’s new arrivals post.

  7. Jerry House says:

    About ten years ago I came across a used book store in my travels. I had some time to kill and popped in to browse only to be told that customers were not allowed to look at the books. The next time I was in the area, the store was gone. Go figure.

  8. Richard says:

    Jerry, it could have been one of these internet stores, though there were a lot fewer of them then, I believe. Such places can duck a lot of expenses if the public isn’t allowed in. They may have folded, moved or been combined with another such place, who knows? I’d not seen one like this before.

  9. Joachim Boaz says:

    @ Richard — Cool, I’d love to read a review of his stories — if you have time. I think we, as readers, are somewhat obligated to let fellow fans know about completely forgotten authors who might be worth reading — hehehe (i.e. I’m trying to guilt you into writing a review).

  10. Richard says:

    Joachim, I’ll do a review as soon as I’ve had a chance to read it… but don’t hold your breath, I have a lot on the reading plate as usual. There is a review of a Fyfe novel coming up in two or three weeks for Friday Forgotten Books.

  11. Patti Abbott says:

    This is so depressing.

  12. Redhead says:

    what a bizarre, neat adventure! it was nice of her to invite you back, to become a “local regular”.

  13. John says:

    Kooky. I’ve been in a place like that once out here in the ‘burbs of Illinois. It was a place that ws advertising a Going out of Business sale. When I started opening some half open boxes (they weren’t sealed) I was screamed at by the owner. “Don’t touch those books! They’re not for sale.” I nearly burst out laughing. But his furor was too scary. I immediately left. If they weren’t for sale what were they doing in the store? Later the store reappeared online as mail order only.

    BTW – when Joe and I were in Oregon back at the end of August I finally got to visit Powell’s Books and I spent $185! I found some books I’d never thought I’d ever find in the US and one of them was only $3.50. I was amazed at how low the prices were. Guess no one wants the oldies anymore. We loved visiting your beautiful state. Had too much planned in our short eight days. Maybe next time (and there will be one) I’ll let you know we’re coming.

  14. Jeff Meyerson says:

    Reminds me of when Jeff Smith took me, George Kelley and Andy Jaysnovitch to the place in Baltimore that is literally a “free” bookstore. Needless to say, turning George and Andy loose in a place like that was dangerous and had George had his car he could have laid waste to the place.

  15. Richard says:

    Patti, yes, it’s depressing in a way. The positive I’ll take from it is that at least people, lots of them, apparently, want physical books, presumably to read them. Certain;y better than to have only a good sized computer dispensing e-books (shudder). At least one can go on line an get books there.

  16. Richard says:

    Redhead, they don’t want to encourage walk-in traffic, but if I did find something online there I might try it again. It’s worth it to save the postage, since it’s only a few miles away.

  17. Richard says:

    John, you must have gotten into that store during it’s switchover to online only. Must be much easier to let the computer mind the store than have to sit there all day. Glad to hear you came to Oregon, too bad you guys couldn’t drop by or we couldn’t meet up downtown (we’re about 8 miles south). Not that there are a lot of cool books here, one guy who visited said “Is that all you have? I thought there’d be more.” Well, I took offense, but tried not to show it. He won’t be coming back. I have what I have, just a small personal stash of books. Anyway, if you come back, we’d love to see you both. If nothing else, we can buy you lunch at 12th Street Tavern, only a few blocks from Powells, which is indeed a great bookstore. Did you go to the downtown or Hawthorn store, or both?

  18. Richard says:

    Jeff, I remember reading about that in the apa. Seems to me Andy was picking up a lot of medical books about that time, or maybe you guys went before then.

  19. Jeff Meyerson says:

    No, that was the right time. Fortunately, he had no way to get them home so only took half a dozen things. I’m not sure how many George took (10?) but it was a reasonable amount.

  20. Pingback: ffb: The Penguin Science Fiction Omnibus | The Broken Bullhorn

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