This book store is the reason I’ve decided to do book store reviews on this blog from time to time (I have some brewing from my recent trip to NOLA, too). Phoenix Book Store on Main Street in the highway town of Los Banos, CA is everything an independent book store should be.
First, it is in a great location. Main Street in Los Banos is a hidden treasure. Although I have family in the area, I had not been down Main Street in something like twenty years. Most of the businesses are locally owned and run, and the street is maintained beautifully. You might mistake your walk down Main Street for a trip back to Small Town USA in the 1950s. There is a Rexall Drugs that still has a soda bar, and an amazing diner directly across from Phoenix Books that will blow your taste buds out of your head (and probably bust a button on your trousers).
The proprietor of Phoenix Books keeps the books organized by subject and author, the new and used books are mixed together somewhat haphazardly. This is amazing for a few reasons. First, if you find a new book you’d like to try, you can dig in the area around it and possibly find it used for a lower price. Secondly, it captures the wonderful things about a used book store (the musty, dusty book smell, the feeling of wonder being surrounded by towering shelves of books, the joy in finding something really unique) while still offering the new and popular releases of the here and now.
The staff is helpful and friendly, which is always a plus. No one is working at this book store solely to pay the bills. They love the books as much as you do.
There is a small, but well stocked “collectors’ section” which features rare and unusual books for just about any price range. I picked up an occult book from that section for about nine dollars, and drooled over a rare Steinbeck behind the counter. There was also a large selection of pop-collector’s books like Stephen King First Editions.
In the end, we spent something like $60 and walked out with armfuls of books. Perhaps my favorite find was an old paperback of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s short stories with a cover price of $1.25. The used book prices are incredibly low and the new book prices are competitive. I can’t wait to go back.
If you’re rolling through Los Banos on your way to or from the Bay Area, this is a must stop for book lovers.
Tip: explore this place in the late morning and then stuff your face at the Sixth Street Diner across the street. Don’t go to breakfast first, you won’t be able to bend, twist, and crouch with a belly that full.