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Cleveland Antiquarian Books was very close to the eidos of the used bookstore. At least it seemed that way. It was a Cleveland institution for decades. The store was in a nice old storefront on Shaker Square, in Cleveland, Ohio. When you walked in the store, you instantly knew that this was what you were looking for. Despite all this, it closed in 1999, mainly because no one ever actually bought anything.

It was a beautiful store. The ceilings were probably 16 feet high, with bookcases from floor to ceiling. When you went in the front door, the first thing you saw was a room lined with Barrister bookcases, filled with fine bindings and other interesting antique books. A large grand piano sat in the middle of the floor. The wood floors were covered by oriental rugs, with an additional stack of rugs for sale. Additional rooms had flat files of antique maps and prints, as well as bookcases filled with books that didn’t cost quite so much. Most of the furniture in the store was antique. The computer, needed for business, was hidden behind the counter, out of view, to avoid disrupting the experience. There was a basement, too, where less expensive books were kept.

All in all, it was a wonderful experience. The store felt like a wonderful private library. It was always great to walk in the store, wander around, peer through the glass at the treasures stored inside, marvel at the gorgeous leather and ancient paper. It was enough entertainment that I could usually find some small book to purchase to justify the hours spent there.

Unfortunately, it became more and more difficult to find even that little volume to justify the time spent. There just weren’t that many exceptional books at the low end of the price range. Plenty of decent titles, but nothing exceptional, and almost all priced significantly above fair market value. The same was true of the more expensive books, the heart of the store. The quality of these volumes was generally very good – there were many beautiful and rare tomes, but the prices were also significantly above market value. Once it was possible to buy quality used books over the internet, Clevelanders who were willing to spend a couple hundred dollars on a book did a little bit of research, and were generally able to find the books they were looking for elsewhere.

Cleveland Antiquarian Books closed in 1999. I miss it, for sure, but I think I miss the idea of the store far more than the store itself.

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