With the advent of online publications, e-books, and e-readers, some folks are predicting the complete demise of printed books. Then there are those who collect books and celebrate them. John K. King of Detroit is of the latter persuasion. In his converted factory cum bookstore on Lafayette, King has amassed a collection of books that numbers over 1 million. John K. King Used & Rare Books, Michigan’s largest book store, is an incunabula lover’s banquet.
The building at 901 W. Lafayette (off the Lodge Freeway at Howard Street) is pretty inauspicious. It’s an abandoned four-story factory, formerly Advanced Glove. The squat, square bookstore still dons the peeling robin’s-egg blue paint and still bears a large brown glove motif that wraps around a corner of the building. King’s original store, housed in the old Michigan Theatre Building (used in the Eminem movie “8 Mile”), could no longer contain the bookseller’s ever-growing collection. Actually, King outgrew the Lafayette site, too. He’s added to two other John K. King Books locations at 5911 Cass downtown and 22524 Woodward in Ferndale, Michigan.
As seen in this video, the interior of the Lafayette location of John K. King Books isn’t fancy, either. It’s been left pretty much as it was in its factory days. But the store provides what it promises. It’s brimming with meticulously cataloged literature in every genre and subject under the sun. That location is actually two buildings; the adjacent equally large structure contains a collection of art books and King’s huge rare book room. The categories page lists over 300 book topics. But King reminds us that the search function only covers stock from the rare book room. It doesn’t even touch the three-quarters of a million titles in the main book warehouse. And that doesn’t include the stacks of free books available in store vestibule.
John K. King has loads of still-published books, but he specializes in rare and out-of-print titles. Not only does he buy used books, King buys entire libraries and collections. The store recently acquired a plethora of vintage sports (baseball, football, hockey, and basketball) books. Books range in publication date from the 1950s through 1990s. Many books are signed. That’s how it works at John K. King: You never know what you’re going to find, and every visit is a new literary adventure.
If you’re looking for a certain title, you can email John K. King for information. They don’t keep a complete list, as it would be too cumbersome. But they’re well-organized. The best way to browse John K. King Books is in person. And the best way to find out what’s available is to do what book lovers throughout history have always done: rummage through the shelves. No online library can duplicate that experience.