Allegedly, the store is closing. You’d think that’s why every musty book in the place is 70% off. You can fill a garbage bag with pocket books and pay just $10 for the lot of them.
I overhear the owner tell someone over the phone that business is slow, he expects to have plenty of books leftover after the sale. He’s not having much fun doing the used bookstore thing, he says, and his accountant is recommending he puts a tourniquet on to stop the bleeding of money.
Yet, the place seems to be hopping when I take an hour to browse Words Worth Books on a Wednesday afternoon to see what I can dig up that’s worth reading.
It would be easy to walk straight past the place. The windowless, white door takes a slight shove to open, but despite Yelp reviews that warned the place doesn’t stick to its posted opening signs, Words Worth is open for business.
The shop is crowded with people at 1 p.m. Kids are using shelves to play hide-and-go-seek, or jumping off of bent-up foot stools while their mothers stand in an increasingly long lineup to get their white plastic bags of books rung up.
The smell of aging books is thick in the air here and a few minutes of browsing makes it clear why: these books are largely of the older variety. Plenty of them old enough to order their own scotch, if books were into that sort of thing. A few contemporary tomes show up, and plenty of pulpy reads, but it’s not the kind of place you’ll go to pick up a cheap Hunger Games box set. Rather, you might find a British war tome, or an art textbook, a guide to the problems of philosophy or any one of dozens of books of Christianity.
The design of the store could be described as haphazard-precarious-shrug. It’s similar to other used books stores in Calgary (think Inglewood’s Fair’s Fair, but smaller), but with less method to the madness, more curled up sticky notes denoting sections, and more boxes upon boxes upon boxes. The boxes all seem to be available to explored, but if you were feeling motivated enough to lift a box to the ground, you’d really have nowhere to put it.
After navigating through the shelves and the dozen or so other people wedged between piles of books, I finally came across the food & cocktail section I was looking for. There were two packed shelves to look through, and though much of what I came across was outdated (think 15-year-old guides to beer in Calgary and microwave recipes) I pulled out half a dozen interesting enough books to add to my collection. Among them a “totally legal” guide to mixing up your own liqueurs at home, a guide to cooking “better than your mama” apparently written for women obligated to cook for their families in the early ’70s and a cookbook put together by Calgary chefs in the early ’90s.
What struck me as disappointing was that Words Worth has so many books all over the place, and yet only a fraction of them are somewhere you can really look through. Find me a person willing to sort through this many boxes on the off-chance they’ll come across something great and I’ll find you a bibliophile in desperate need of an Amazon account.
Perhaps a certain kind of bookseller could make this sort of situation work for them. If everything out on the floor was an inspired selection that represented a carefully curated collection of quality books, then an overflow room could be a boon for the dedicated hunter.
That’s not what Words Worth was on my first visit. It was a curiosity though. More than once, I locked eyes with fellow shoppers, our brows raised at matching angles. We silently agreed that this was a weird bookstore but we would scan the shelves for just a few more minutes anyway. It was all 70% off, after all.
Online reviews tell me that the sale I attended wasn’t the first one that was supposed to precede the closing of the store. And, based on the conversations I heard in his booming voice while I browsed, the owner seemed to be waffling on his decision close down due to lack of profitability.
Who knows how his little labyrinth of novels and textbooks and spiral-bound copies of Company’s Coming has made it this long. If it survives, it’s really not the kind of bookstore I’m tempted to make a regular stop. But with its location near the new West LRT line, maybe with the right business plan behind it, it could be a model example of why we should keep the brick and mortar bookstore alive, someday.