Eugene, Oregon, the longtime residence of legendary writer Ken Kesey, is a city that prides itself on literacy and education. It is home to a number of bookstores and more than a few have been community favorites for many years. There are five book stores, however, that outreach the rest in terms of selection and price. These myriad stores house rich collections of used books from all genres and categories, but the most popular of the five and longtime fixture in Eugene is the first on the list, the Smith Family Book Store
Smith Family Book Store is locally owned and operated and its history spans about 30 years. Smith Family opened its doors in 1974 with a few boxes of books and an empty space on Alder Street near the University of Oregon. Over three decades later they have two locations in Eugene, one on Willamette and one on Thirteenth. With over 500 sections and subsections spanning all genres imaginable, you can find anything from Nabakov and Dostoevsky to Harry Potter, Nora Roberts, and the history of ancient Mesopotamia. Their bookstores are big, and everything is generally well organized.
They deal solely in used books and there are several options for those who wish to buy or sell, though Smith doesn’t always take the books you bring in. You can trade for cash or for in store credit. The in store credit is generally a better idea as the cash offer is usually lower. If the book is out of print or is an old edition, they give you an extremely low price or none at all.
Smith family Bookstore is so appealing because you can go there and browse for hours, and nobody cares because of the extremely relaxed atmosphere. They offer huge choices, good prices, and reflect the attitude of the open-minded community in which they are located. If you live in the area or are visiting for awhile, give yourself time to explore both of their bookstores. If you live far away and need help finding a book, send them an email. If they’ve got it, you’ll get it.
The only problem with Smith is that half the time, books upon books are stacked in front of each other, which make the ones behind messy to get to, or so stacked on top of each other that you’re in trouble when you want to get to that bottom book. Another problem is that while prices are relatively cheap, they can still be spendy depending on the type and condition of the book. Besides these small annoyances, however, they are still number one for selection and quality of used books in Eugene.
Second on the list we have St. Vincent De Paul. It is a used goods store that also has tons of books at the most reasonable prices, i.e., one dollar for paperbacks and two dollars for hardbacks. With seven locations in the Eugene area, there are a wide variety of stores to check out and a huge number of books. Eugene’s best kept book secret, St. Vincent De Paul’s carries popular fiction, commercial, and even historical books.
The largest collections are on Seneca at the Division store and the West Broadway store. Everything is extremely well-organized and categorized and they allow you to browse as long as you want. They take donations, so there is no cash or in-store credit for books. For those who are looking for cheap books with no hassle and no fuss, St. Vincent’s is a great place to go.
The downside of a place like St. Vincent’s is that someone looking for rare and more eclectic books would be disappointed. There is mostly mainstream fiction and the books are sometimes in worse condition than other stores because they may be the rejects of higher end stores. Despite these drawbacks, it is an excellent venue for casual book seekers and definitely has the right prices.
Third on the list is the University of Oregon Bookstore. It is an excellent choice for book buyers as it has all contemporary authors and books. It has been in the Eugene are for about 80 years and has become an institution. The first Bookstore was organized to serve the needs of the students and faculty of the University and financed by the Associated Students of the University.
You will find few used books by contemporary authors unless they were ordered by an instructor specifically for a class. However, they are still worth browsing. Everything from classic literature to language and history can be found, and the books in this section are available to everyone, not just university students. Its prices are also very low for used books as it caters to mostly to students and faculty.
There is a varied mix that changes each term, and there are always sales. The UO Bookstore has a casual atmosphere, and it also is very lax on browsers. Generally nicer inside and more upscale, the atmosphere is always friendly and helpful, and most of the staff are UO students. The UO Bookstore gives to many charities and is very active in community events and programs. It is also fully online and you can order books through their website, uobookstore.com. It is a great place to support and worth checking out on a book round of Eugene.
For more eclectic tastes there are a couple other very good bookstores. One of these is a small, independently owned shop called Black Sun Books. They have a liberal environment and mindset which makes them very popular in Eugene. Locally owned and run, Black Sun Books is generally a liberal, progressive bookstore that focuses on environmental, economic, and political issues
They also have a great selection of books, mostly geared towards political issues like gay-rights, environment, economics, social practice, and woman’s rights, to name a few. They do have some mainstream books as well. They are primarily a used bookstore and carry new, used, modern first-editions, and out-of-print books. They are intimate and relaxed, and as seems to be the case with most bookstores in Eugene, they allow you to relax and browse at your leisure.
They have a cash or in-store credit policy, and the prices on their books are mid-range. Make sure you call and verify their hours, as they are a very small operation and often change their hours weekly and even daily. The only real disadvantage is that their books could be cheaper and their selection wider. Also, their hours can be very confusing and they are often inconsistent from week to week. Thus, if you visit Black Sun on your rounds, make sure you call ahead of time to check their hours.
The last on the list is Tsunami Books, located on Willamette Street. Tsunami Books has been around for years and sells both used and new books. They also trade for in-store credit or cash. They have recently expanded and serve doubly as an entertainment venue in the evenings. They are open 8 to 5pm Monday through Friday and sometimes later if there is an event. The downside of Tsunami Books is that people wanting more modern and popular fiction might have a harder time finding what they’re seeking for a less reasonable price than the stores above.
A very hip and modern store, they host a plethora of readings and bring in authors from all over. Large and welcoming, they have a number of books to choose from and are highly organized. If you need a book, they will usually have it. If they don’t, they can order it for you. A popular store that is a hub of Eugene activity, Tsunami books has reasonable prices and a friendly staff that let you browse at your leisure.
Whether you’re a serious book buyer or occasional reader, Eugene’s book stores have a wealth of options to choose from. The five above are the most reasonable in price and rated highest on customer service and great atmospheres. For the student who wants a cheap textbook and the weary traveler in need of a good read, to the long-time resident making their daily rounds, these bookstores are the places to go for cheap books, great atmosphere, and tons of selections.