Washington, DC is peppered with some excellent used bookstores, though not as many as one would hope. The best close by is Capitol Hill Books, characterized by floor to ceiling book jumbles, handwritten signs with arrows in every direction, and a delightfully crabby proprietor. Other good ones (and some of the only others) are Idle Time in Adams Morgan and Riverby Books on Capitol Hill. But have you ever dared to imagine an enormous warehouse filled with used books lurking just outside our city? Neither had I, until I was informed of Second Story Books and Antiques in Rockville (which claims the other Second Story Books on P Street in Dupont Circle as a comparatively miniscule offshoot).
The delight of Second Story Books, which truly is a located in a large warehouse, is first experienced by the used-book smell wafting out of the open garage doors upon your approach. The place is home half a million books, according to its website, and the sheer variety could keep you browsing for days. It is one of the largest used bookstores in the country, and not surprisingly, a good part of its business these days comes from online buyers. It also deals with estate sales and individuals looking to sell books (though beware, similar to a consignment shop, you will get only a fraction of what the book appraisers believe they are able to sell the book for—you’re best off selling in bulk).
The buyer who ventures to the warehouse in person will find dozens of categories to choose from: rare art, cookbooks, fiction, naval history, young adult, foreign languages, the list goes on. The website has many of the titles available for browsing, if you are looking for something rare or unique. The Washington Post pointed out one of the best (or most frustrating) features of the store—because of its sheer size, the title you are looking for may be found in one of a handful of sections. For example, there are no less than three sections for cookbooks. But this scavenger hunt is what ends up making the trip enjoyable in the first place!
Prices depend on which sales are going on, but there is no doubt that they are great deals, and better than you will find in the city. Some trade paperbacks were going for as little as $.50 during my visit, but go up to $15,000 for extremely rare books online. In order to consolidate space, there is currently a 50% off sale for the entire store (though unclear when that will end).
Second Story Books was started in 1973, and both the Rockville and Dupont locations have been in business for over 20 years. There used to be a Bethesda until it closed a few years ago, and the original warehouse was located in Alexandria, Virginia.
The bookstore also sells posters, videos, CDs, paintings, and other collectibles. Whatever you’re in the mood for, one thing’s clear—bring a large tote bag, because you won’t be going home empty-handed!
To visit: 12160 Parklawn Dr., Rockville, MD, (301) 770-0477. Open Sunday-Wednesday 10-8 and Thursday-Saturday 10-9. A medium walk from the Twinbrook Metro stop, but if you are planning on lugging anything back, a vehicle may be necessary!