SALEM — Derby Square Book Store will close next month, ending a 39-year run as one of the most beloved, befuddling and unforgettable bookstores on the North Shore.
It has arguably more books per square foot than any bookstore in the country. There are tens of thousands of books in less than 1,000 square feet, which accounts for the tall, teetering towers of tomes.
Stacks of books rise from tables like stalagmites. Only the most intrepid customer dares grab a book from the middle of a tall stack.
“It’s living Jenga,” said Kathy Farias, a Salem State University student and regular customer, referring to a game in which wooden blocks are removed from a tower of blocks and then placed back on top of an increasingly unstable structure.
“We’ve lost piles from time to time,” said a smiling Ted Monroe, who sits at the cash register, peering out at customers from behind stacks of books, like the door man at a speakeasy. He runs the store with his older brother, Frank.
To its many faithful patrons, Derby Books is a literary and cultural treasure trove, a general bookstore with a wider array of books than stores many times its size.
Where else could one find George Eliot’s “Adam Bede” only a few strides from “The Druid Craft Tarot,” and just around the corner from E.L. James’ “Fifty Shades Darker” and Barack Obama’s “Dreams From My Father”?
This is a store where customers buy old books about Salem history and the latest Harry Potter book on the day of its release.
And everything here is on sale — and has been, seemingly forever.
“It’s been a 50-percent (off) bookstore for the last eight years,” Monroe said.
In January, new signs went up in the tiny windows of the brick building on the Essex Street pedestrian mall: “Final Clearance, 75 percent Off All Books.”