When I think of Detroit, Michigan, I think of “Motor City,” I think of ghettoes full of crime, I think of a dying city. I would never have guessed that a special place now on my bucket list is located in this seemingly broken city. With four floors stocked with over a million books, John K. King Used & Rare Books has a larger collection than any chain superstore, but retains the independent bookseller quality of a “distinctive” world with its unique atmosphere (Miller 98). John K. King Used & Rare Books is a shiny spot in a tarnished region, a hidden gem in Detroit’s unfortunate reputation.
Found in the West Side Industrial area, this remarkable bookstore is located just off the M-10 Lodge Expressway, which separates the old glove factory that houses the bookstore from the skyscrapers of downtown Detroit. Just drive east from the bookstore under M-10 and you’re a mere half-mile away from central downtown Detroit, and then you can go just a little further to the iconic Renaissance Center.
West Side Industrial’s area is roughly rectangular in shape, with a staircase-like northern border as it travels from Bagley Avenue to Labrosse Street to Porter Street. Rosa Parks Boulevard and M-10 Lodge Expressway serve as the western and eastern borders respectively. West Side Industrial then runs from those boundaries down to the Detroit River.
West Side Industrial is a business district, with residences consisting of apartments and condominium towers lining the waterfront. It is also home to Dean Savage Memorial Park, a small park of less than 3 acres of land, and the much larger 20-acre West Riverfront Park. The latter is quite new compared to most of the neighborhood, having been constructed within the past few years. It also just became a new concert venue for summertime shows in 2015, solidifying the riverfront as the more modern area of West Side Industrial.
Almost 1500 people live in the 2.9 square miles of space that is West Side Industrial. Basically all of them live in the Riverfront Apartments buildings. A large majority of the population in West Side Industrial, 60.9% to be exact, is black. 24% are aged 22-29, and combining that with the fact that 28.1% hold a bachelor’s degree suggests that a good portion of West Side Industrial’s residents are recent college graduates. West Side Industrial’s proximity to downtown could explain this, as it would serve as an ideal place to live for commuting to jobs in the central downtown area.
John King Books’s neighbors are the Detroit Transportation Service Center of the Michigan Department of Transportation and a Greyhound bus station. Like much of the other businesses that occupy West Side Industrial, including John King Books, MDOT and Greyhound inhabit blocky buildings reminiscent of warehouses. Structure after structure blends into one another in a horizontal blur, the only vertical found in the waterfront towers.
Here on the edge of the realm of municipal departments, contractors, and condo towers stands John K. King Used & Rare Books. Although it is placed with the other businesses exiled from downtown Detroit for being boring or old, John King Books gets a special spot stuck between two worlds – the modern and the nostalgic.
John K. King Used & Rare Books appears to have decided to embrace the nostalgic with its own charming twist. A painting of a glove is still visible on one corner of the main warehouse, harkening back to the four-story building’s past as a factory for Advance Glove. This quirk sets the structure apart from the other similar blocks nearby.
A unique feature of John K. King Used & Rare Books is that their inventory is not computerized except for the rare and valuable collections, and they have a limited presence online. Traces of technology in general are few and far between inside the store – almost all the signs marking different sections and aisles, announcing specials, and directing patrons are handwritten. Despite all this, though, the bookstore managed to catch the attention of book lovers from around the country and has become a “meeting place” for them to share the experiences of getting lost in the store’s four floors and finding hidden treasures (qtd. in Cresswell 69). The adventures this bookstore creates are taken home just like the literary finds of the day, forever connecting those who have the chance to visit John K. King Used & Rare Books and solidifying its place on this bibliophile’s bucket list.
John K. King Used & Rare Books
Statistical Atlas, “Race and Ethnicity” chart. <http://statisticalatlas.com/neighborhood/Michigan/Detroit/West-Side-Industrial/Race-and-Ethnicity#figure/race-and-ethnicity>
Statistical Atlas, “Detailed Educational Attainment” chart. <http://statisticalatlas.com/neighborhood/Michigan/Detroit/West-Side-Industrial/Educational-Attainment#figure/detailed-educational-attainment>
Statistical Atlas, “Age Structure” chart. <http://statisticalatlas.com/neighborhood/Michigan/Detroit/West-Side-Industrial/Age-and-Sex#figure/age-structure>
John K. King Used & Rare Books photo <http://www.kingbooksdetroit.com/preview-of-our-store/dimeodichik00zwywcjhmy9lwawno5>
Statistical Atlas, West Side Industrial map (reference). <http://statisticalatlas.com/neighborhood/Michigan/Detroit/West-Side-Industrial/Overview>
Google Maps: John K. King Used & Rare Books, Michigan Department of Transportation, West Side Industrial
Cresswell, Tim. Place: A Short Introduction. Malden, MA: Blackwell Pub, 2004.
Miller, Laura J. Reluctant Capitalists: Bookselling and the Culture of Consumption. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2006.