Bookstores come and go in downtown San Diego, but Wahrenbrock’s Book House on Broadway between 7th and 8th Avenue has been around for so long (since 1935) that it is something of an institution for the local bookworms. Its exterior has a rather deceptively dusty and narrow look that betrays the treasure housed inside its three full storeys. The place is longer than it is wide, and so newcomers walk into its door expecting to spend 10 minutes or less browsing its shelves only to find themselves sucked into the store’s storied interior only to emerge hours later carrying more books to the check out counter than they ever dreamed of capturing beforehand. You can almost live in this place!
There was a fire here 2 years ago (in February 2006), but most of the damage was confined to the back of the ground floor where the nature and sci-fi books were kept. The store has recovered well from it, though. The 1st floor is once more practically filled to capacity with non-fiction books. Any subject you can think of you can find there. Walking in, there is a bunch of used popular fantasy books (the Harry Potter series, Lord of the Rings series, etc) on the right side, partially hiding the staircase to the upper levels. The cinema, new age, mechanical, craft books are immediately to the left, behind a table full of used (by in mint condition) bestsellers. To the right just pass the counter are the foreign language books… and beyond are the arts, music, and religion volumes.
My favorite section is the left and the middle of the 1st floor where the real life adventure books (sailing, mountaineering, sport, hiking, etc) and the science books are located, though. One of the best deal I’ve caught here was 4 years ago when I found the 3 volumes of Feynman’s Lectures on Physics for only $15! Further back in the store houses the engineering and astronomy books that will make the geekiest of bookworm squeal in glee.
The 2nd floor houses the history, travel, political, and paperback fiction books. You will have to be a bit patient looking for specific stuff here since there are more books lying around than there are shelves to house them. The back room where the paperback nonfiction books are is where you can find classic books for very good bargain price… along with hard to find poetry and translated foreign language books.
The 3rd floor houses the rare first edition books. I haven’t been up there much (I don’t do well with steep stairs and this place doesn’t have an elevator). Wahrenbrock’s actually specializes in acquiring and appraising this stuff.
This is not really a bookstore where you come in looking for what is currently on the NY Times’ bestseller list, but where you come in to embark on a journey of discovery. Some of the books on the shelves have been around since my dad was a baby! There are so many books all over the place (even on the steps of the staircase) that I really can’t gripe about less than sparkling organization of the place. The staff are actually marvelously knowledgeable about books and how to find specific ones for you if you ask. I actually get this feeling that all three of them have read all the books in the store and know exactly where they are… A rather staggering notion considering how many book they are dealing with!
PS: Wahrenbrock’s does trade as well as sell, and they do give you fair price for your books.
Wahrenbrock’s Book House: 726 Broadway (between 7th and 8th Avenues), San Diego, CA 92101. Tel. (619) 232-0132. Hours: Mon-Sat from 9:30AM-5:30PM. Website: www.abebooks.com/home/WAHRENBR/