For an avid book reader, a buyer on a budget or someone who's just looking for a unique gift, Downtown Books at 327 E. Wisconsin Ave., is the best local bookstore in Milwaukee.
With two and a half floors of books, there is an almost unlimited selection of used books at low prices, ranging from $0.95 for specials up to $7.95 for hardcover books. Prices vary depending on the condition of the book.
Walk around the first floor, where bookshelves stretch from floor to ceiling, and one will find romance, fiction and religious books. The front portion of the shop has used VHS tapes for sale, and several used but recently released hardcover novels.
After walking down the long front aisles, a shopper can go into the back room to find books on poetry, Judaism and Eastern thought, as well as a huge collection of Shakespeare's works in paperback, hardcover and record formats.
Take the stairs to the section between floors and travel the world without ever leaving downtown Milwaukee. This section also houses a seemingly endless collection of National Geographic magazines ranging from issues pre-1919 to the most current issues. The prices per issue range from $7.95 for the oldest copies to only $0.95 for the most recent copies.
Further up the stairs, the collection expands even more: Science Fiction, law, technology, science and industry, mythology, reference, magic, low-carb diet cookbooks, business, journalism, history and more. For students on a budget, there are even used copies of old textbooks in math, physics, biology and chemistry.
The humor section, given its own room, has more magic books, puzzles and joke books from comedians like Dave Barry and Jay Leno for less than $5. Far Side fanatics or Peanuts fans can find large collections of their favorite old comic strips.
One of the more interesting sections is the music/comic/magazine room on the top floor. An old Panasonic record player/radio plays oldies while patrons browse comic book collections or classic music. In addition to tapes and CDs, Downtown Books has several rows of shelves packed with classic LPs to browse. Perhaps the most unique element is the sheet music selection, including complete vocal scores for classical works by composers like Bach, Beethoven and Brahms for as low as $3.99.
Can't find a back-issue of a magazine for a critical project? Try the boxes filled with old issues of titles like Time, Newsweek, The New Yorker, Martha Stewart Living and a variety of "men's magazines," among others.
It may not have fluffy chairs to sit in like the big book chains, but the atmosphere makes it a great place to lose yourself in while looking for books, let alone in reading them. Every possible inch of space is devoted to shelves of books or music. Even a bathroom was converted into yet another nook for books.
"I just love how eccentric it is," said Megan Kolar, a senior in the College of Communication. "They even have a little dog just running around the front of the store."
Downtown Books also buys used books from patrons, although with the low prices they charge, they can't give a huge portion back. But to emphasize their friendly atmosphere, they will even make house calls to pick up large numbers of used books.
So if you're getting ready to move and have a surplus of books, or if you just like the smell of old books, visit Downtown Books for a one-of-a-kind experience.
Downtown Books is located at 327 E. Wisconsin Ave. More information is available by calling 276-5330.
This article appeared in The Marquette Tribune on May 5 2005.