Second Story Books, with outlets in Bethesda, Dupont Circle and Rockville, is probably the best-known and largest used and antiquarian book operation in the Washington area. Together the three shops buy and sell an amazing volume and variety of books. But not only books: music, prints and posters, magazines, antiques and even, at times, old radios.
Of the three shops, the Rockville Warehouse may be the most attractive to the hardened collector, just as it may overwhelm the casual book buyer. In general, the titles here sell for half the pencilled price (anywhere from $4 to several hundred, but most lurk in the $7 to $15 range); and there's even a substantial area given over to $2 bargains.
Record collectors will find bin after bin of LPs, mostly classical, most a buck a disc. Considering the number of books and size of the operation, the Second Story staff do an admirable job of sorting, culling and categorizing. But one of the attractions of the Warehouse lies in its serendipitous character: Anything might turn up in any of several places. That novel you want could be in fiction, modern firsts, illustrated books, or the bargain book area.
One needs to spend a little time here just getting oriented. But if your idea of a fun afternoon is to spend three or four hours poking around among odd works of scholarship, half-forgotten fiction from earlier in the century, or shelf after shelf of theology, philosophy and history, this is the place to go. Looking for an 11th edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica, a complete run of Etudes Balzaciennes, a novel or two by Thomas Love Peacock, a big art book, the essays of Edmund Gosse, an old issue of Life magazine? The Warehouse is a good bet to have any or all of them. But you may need to do some searching.
N.B.: If you happen to be a serious collector of mysteries or science fiction, you will also want to visit Nelson Freck's annex to the main book room. Freck has established himself as one of the nation's leading dealers in these fields, and he is likely to have copies, even multiple copies, of first printings, rarities and British imports. Since Freck specializes in collectible editions, expect to pay top dollar. But if you need a first of an early Sue Grafton or Philip K. Dick, you just might find it here.
Note too that the upper floors in the Warehouse are given over to the Second Story business offices, including that of owner Allan Stypeck. A search service is available, as well as a book binding and repair facility.
-- Michael Dirda