A 50 Year Staple Of Detroit: John K. King Used And Rare Books

Established in 1965 and nestled inside an old glove factory on West Lafayette Boulevard and 5th Street in downtown Detroit is a rare glimpse into history.

“We’ve accumulated probably close to a million books,” said owner John King of John K. King Used and Rare Books, a four-story building packed with some of the most hard-to-get books in the world.

“We have the first edition Book of Mormon. We have the first edition Federalist Papers. And we have a lot of books signed by famous people like Presidents …” said King. A large diverse clientele meander down these rows and rows of original material, books with historic past owners like Abraham Lincoln, Mark Twain.

On why he chose Detroit to start his business King said, “Detroit inspired me because this is where I started. This is where I learned the book business. This is where I went to the various old bookstores so I had a loyalty toward Detroit and this is why I’m still here.”

You can smell the history inside the walls. It’s a leathery, musty odor with a tinge of vanilla. Exactly what you’d expect from a decades-old store carrying centuries worth of literature. King added, “We have books that were from the 15th century, which was when printing first was invented.”

There are literally a million reasons to visit. Spend time finding out about history including facts like who was Detroit’s first millionaire. (E.B Ward) It’s all in a book on Detroit-specific history found there.

Read scripture from a Bible printed back in the 1800s, or find jazz records from 1897 and other types of music. The options never end.

“I’ve got an inbred treasure hunting gene, so when I find something rare I still get excited,” said King. His collection is rare enough to be listed as the second best used bookstore in the world by Business Insider coming in behind a store in Venice Italy. “And we don’t even have a canal here,” joked King.

Now these rare books are becoming even more rare — as modern-day brick and mortar stores collapse in favor of e-books. No match, he says, for what he provides. “When you drop the book it doesn’t break and the battery doesn’t run out. Books will be around for a while,” said King.

This feature is part of the Eye On Detroit series as seen on CBS 62.

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