Welcome to the first entry of a new category: Shopping. A friend recently pointed out to me that most people like to shop when they’re on vacation, seeing as how spending money can be soooo relaxing. I quickly realize that she was right — I shop when I’m out of town, too, just in case I see something I can’t find at home. When I was pondering what I’d introduce the category with, it occurred to me that I spend a lot of money on books. That being the case, the first entry for the Shopping category popped into mind with no trouble at all — so here you go.
If you’re a book lover — and hey, who isn’t? — one of the things you’ll soon notice when visiting DFW is the general scarcity of good used bookstores. For good or ill (and mostly for good, I admit), most small bookstores have been supplanted by Half Price Books, which runs a series of big used bookstores all over the Metroplex. They also have a significant presence elsewhere in Texas, with stores in 14 other states too. But the fact is, they’re a genuine local success story; HPB started out right here in Dallas in a converted laundromat in 1972. If you visit Dallas, you own it to yourself to take a look.
I don’t want to make this sound like an ad for HPB, because I don’t intend it to be. They’re not necessarily my favorite place in the world. I used to have my <> own little bookstore in Garland, as you may remember, and Half Price Books is one of the reasons I closed it: I couldn’t compete. I’m not bitter, though. It wasn’t anything personal; they’re just good at what they do, they’re convenient, they have a huge selection, and with ten locations in the Metroplex (and one on the way), if you don’t find a book in one place, you’re likely to find it in another. I used to buy books there all the time, and I still do. Nowadays I live near the flagship store off Northwest Highway in Dallas, so I go there all the time.
The HPB HQ may not be the biggest used bookstore in the world, but it’s the biggest I’ve ever seen or will ever likely see. It’s located in a massive converted warehouse, and I don’t care what the pundits say — there’s always a big crowd there, no matter when I visit, so plenty of people are still reading these days. Maybe not nearly as many as the number who veg out in front of the TV every day, but then reading requires a little more mental effort than TV or movies, doesn’t it? When you’re tired it’s easier to watch rather than participate. I have no problem with that, really.
The interior of the flagship HPB store is cavernous and huge — almost frightfully so. The main Garland library would probably fit inside two or three times over, with no problem. Here’s what you see when you step in the front door.
Let’s talk about huge, shall we? Here’s a photo from the east end toward the west. The building’s not quite big enough to have its own weather, but it’s rather substantial nontheless. And this is only the first floor — they have another partial floor upstairs for warehouse and offices, and I believe there’s a basement, too.
HPB deals in records, CDs, and videos as well as books, so be sure you check out their selections if you end up in one of their stores. I don’t recommend the DVDs — I’ve rarely gotten a used DVD anywhere that works worth a flip. They have great vinyl, though, including some rare stuff. Speaking of rarities, the flagship store’s where display the rare books that people have brought in. There’s a series of locked cabinets to the right of the entryway where you can find everything from ancient first edition Raggedy Ann books to copies of McMurtry’s Last Picture Show, signed by the stars of the movie that was made from it.
For the bibliophile, Half Price Books is a great place to spend an afternoon or two. It’s really a place to get lost in, though, and find things by accident, not the kind of place where you go in, step right up to the book you’re looking for, and make a quick escape. To be honest, I prefer HPB’s smaller stores, because, paradoxically, it’s easier to find stuff there. Ever heard the parable about the ass that starved while standing between two overflowing mangers, because it couldn’t choose which one to eat from? That’s how the flagship HPB store makes me feel. There’s just too much to look for. Once I get in its aisles, I forget all the authors I’m in searchign for, and then I end up running around all over the place. I’ve discovered some good writers here, though — Christoper Moore, Linda Greenlaw, and Diana Wynne Jones, to name a few.
As far as amenities go, they have a substantial meeting room where wargamers often meet, and they also have a pretty good coffee shop on the east end of the store — though to be fair, I usually buy a Venti Caramel Frappachino™ at the Starbucks next door before I go in. They’ve also been thoughtful enough to provide about a dozen comfortable hardwood tables at the east end of the store, just outside the coffee shop. It’s a great place to sit down, sip your coffee, and flip through a stack of books you’ve collected for consideration. My family likes to go there just to browse, so I often bring along my laptop and work until the battery fails. It’s a good place for it.