A grey-haired gentleman places a stack of history books on owner Jim Robert’s desk in Books End. After unsuccessfully studying for the exam to become a tour guide in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, the man wished for his books to live another life. Roberts sifts through the stack of about 10 Civil War books, making small talk, and an offer on the books.
Roberts goes to estate sales, auctions, and library book sales on the hunt for books to sell. Most of his used-book collection—more than 52,000 books—comes from customers looking to trade in their personal libraries. In continuous operation since the 1980s, Books End is a stereotypical independent used bookstore, whose averageness makes it a rarity in a world of chain stores. It sells all genres: about half nonfiction and half fiction (a lot of paperback mysteries). Two kind, older women work the registers. A musty smell rises through the rows of books.
Roberts, wearing a buttoned-up, black sweater vest over a collared white shirt, says that his store appeals to all tastes, specializing in no genre. Nonfiction, academic, cookbooks, self-help—the store sells literally everything. This bookstore reflects Roberts’ voracious appetite as a reader and his admitted soft spot for 20th-century writers, such as Hemingway and Faulkner. The store boasts a larger-than-expected science fiction section and a thorough section in local history. Roberts says the store has the curiosity of a cat and the friendliness of a dog. (Add two more clichés to the list for this quaint bookstore).
Where to go: 2443 James St., Syracuse
What to drink here: Plain coffee, one Splenda and nondairy creamer
Why: If you just want books. Nothing special. Just books.