john king books detroit

John K. King

Used & rare books, a million books in stock.

john king books detroit

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Updates -Main Store

!!  Attention Book Lovers  !!

John King Used & Rare Books

downtown store hours:

Mondays: 12noon to 4pm,

Tuesdays through Saturdays from:

9:30am to 5:30pm

Masks are optional; if you have symptoms please delay your visit and contact us with your request. 

Please call 313-961-0622 

We are available by email,

please expect a delay. [email protected]

 See you soon! 💛📚

Thank you for your understanding and continued support.

Please stay safe out there. 

John king book store detroit

Updates -North Store

Masks are optional; if you have symptoms please delay your visit and contact us with your request .

Our North Store hours Mon - Tues, closed Wed-Fri, 11am - 7pm Sat, 12pm - 6pm Sun, noon - 5pm

Do you follow us Instagram?

www.instagram.com/jkbnorth/

How about on Facebook?

@johnkingbooksnorth

john king book store ferndale metro detroit

Original Kate Greenaway signed watercolor "Patty", framed with a note attached to the back from Greenaway to her publisher E. Routledge sending this picture, purchased by Routledge at the Dudley Gallery, May 1878.  With a copy of the book LITTLE WIDE AWAKE which contains two color reproductions of the watercolor (one on the cover, one as the frontispiece)

Featured Items

Original kate greenaway watercolor & book, merchandise.

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John K. King started in the book business when he was just a teenager in 1965. Since then, he has continually advanced in the field; starting out selling books out of the trunk of his 1954 Packard to present day, offering over a million titles that can only be housed within four expansive floors of seemingly endless shelves.  Previous to the current location of the store at 901 West Lafayette, Mr. King occupied a storefront in the Michigan Theatre Building, which now serves as an ornate parking structure in Downtown Detroit. The West Lafayette location was formerly the Advance Glove Factory, which operated from the 1940s to the 1970s. After the factory was shut down, it sat vacant until Mr. King purchased it in 1983. The original Advance Glove floor mat can still be found at the entrance to the store, as well as the giant red glove that still remains painted on the side of the building.  A few years later, John King purchased the former Otis Elevator building next door to the store. Today, that building contains our offices, Art Annex, and the Rare Book Room, which houses some of the more fragile or scarce items in his collection. Recently, Mr. King has stubbornly agreed to bring at least part of the store experience into the digital age, cataloging the Rare Book collection on www.rarebooklink.com for easy online browsing, as well as introducing a social media presence. You can read a more detailed account of John King’s story on our About Us page.

Navigate map directory 4 four floors biggest bookstore largest

NAVIGATING OUR STORE

John K. King Used & Rare Books is a bookstore reminiscent of times past,  once described by someone as a Wes Anderson movie. The stock in our main store, as well as that of our smaller Ferndale branch, is not cataloged by computer. Although this means we are unable to do a computerized search to see if we have a specific title in stock, merchandise is organized and located by our team of knowledgeable, red apron-clad store employees. Additionally, navigating the sometimes overwhelming multitude of titles is aided by store maps available at the front counter upon entry, as well as centrally located telephones that can be used to reach the front counter for inquiries. Each floor has a designated manager responsible for keeping the books organized by category and subcategory, title and author. To avoid getting confused while browsing, it’s helpful to keep in mind that the books in each category generally flow toward the windows. For customers with mobility issues, just ask a staff member to take you by elevator to the floor of your choice. You can get a feel of our wall-to- wall book experience by checking out our Interactive Store Map . If you still can’t find what you’re looking for, please ask! We have thousands of “duplicates” in storage, and even a few thousand extra Art books, too! All this creates a unique browsing experience that encourages getting “lost in the aisles” of four floors packed full of literature and other ephemera. Don’t worry, we’ll gently push you out at closing time!

rare books shakespear bust collection

RARE BOOK COLLECTION

In addition to the million or so titles in stock in the store, the books and ephemera we’ve deemed to be rare, scarce, or fragile are located next door in our Rare Book Room. Although this collection is not accessible to the general public, shoppers can search for items regarding a multitude of subjects by visiting www.rarebooklink.com . Detailed descriptions, as well as the prices of all Rare Book Room items, can be located on this website. Believe it or not, in the years before our expansive rare book collection was made available online, it was organized via printed catalogs.  If something of interest is found on our website please give us a call, stop in and speak with an associate, or send us an email at  [email protected]  and we will be happy to assist you. For shoppers unable to physically come to the store, items available online may be able to be shipped, depending upon the destination as well as the item itself.  For more information on getting in touch with us, visit our Contact page .

john king books detroit

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John K. King Books (Detroit) - All You Need to Know BEFORE You Go

An inside look at Michigan's largest bookstore, John K. King in Detroit

DETROIT (FOX 2) - The largest bookstore in Michigan could be the perfect place to find some gifts this holiday season. 

With over a million books on its shelves, the John K. King Bookstore in Detroit has been ranked among the best bookstores in the world.

Shopping at Michigan’s largest bookstore, John K. King, supports Detroiters

"Here you'll discover things you never knew existed," said owner John King. 

He says he always had a dream to open up a bookstore in downtown Detroit. 

"I started working out of a trunk of a '54 Ford Packard, and then it just mushroomed and grew into what we are today," he said. "Here we are now with a full building full of books."

The store has been in business now for over 50 years - and 40 of those have been at the corner of Lafayette and 5th Street.

"There's over 900 categories, there's a million books, there's four floors, and we encompass everything we can get," King said. And that even includes signed books from Henry Ford, Dr. Seuss and former president Barack Obama. 

"For people who are interested in Detroit history, we probably have around a thousand different books. Most of them, if not all, are out of print, so you can't just go to Borders and get what we have," King said. 

john king books detroit

"Besides books, we also have artifacts. One of them is a little credit card with a brass tag, and it was like the first credit card, and you would go into Hudson's and you would present your credit card."

And when you use your credit card here in Detroit, the money stays in Detroit.

"It's all run by local people. Most of the people that work for us live in the City of Detroit," King said. "When people buy a book here, it benefits the city."

John K. King Used and Rare Books is located at 901 W Lafayette Boulevard. It's open 9:30 a.m. - 5:30 p.m. Tuesday - Saturday. 

John K. King Used & Rare Books

John K. King Used & Rare Books

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Detroit Book Fest

Exclusive Interview: JOHN KING, owner of John K. King Used & Rare Books in Detroit, internationally voted one of the World’s Best Bookstores!

by Ryan Place | Mar 5, 2017

john king books detroit

You have to hand it to John King . He’s a self-made businessman who built a fifty-year powerhouse of books.

He’s outlasted Borders Books, watched the rise of Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble, and survived razor-thin years of the Great Recession. Even with hordes of hipster millennials myopically glued to their smartphones and Kindles, his bookstore thrives and prospers still.

John K. King Used & Rare Books is a Detroit institution. Many people have amassed entire personal home libraries over the years just by shopping here. You can lose an entire day among literally 1,000,000+ books spread over 4 floors and 900 categories housed inside an old glove factory.

john king books detroit

John K. King Used & Rare Books in Detroit (photo by Ryan M. Place)

Repeatedly voted one of the top bookstores in the world by numerous publications including Business Insider, CNN, and others, John King Books is a must-visit spot on the Global Bookstore Trail, that grand design connect-the-dots map of outstanding bookstores running in a serpentine pattern across the globe.

Many bibliophiles from around the world have made a pilgrimage here to Michigan’s largest bookstore, to shelves overflowing et infra with spectacular inventory ranging from: standard classics, paperbacks, hardcovers, selective esoterica, illuminated medieval manuscripts written on vellum, woodcuts on china paper, armorial bookplates, books bound in crushed Moroccan leather, old rarities sporting beautifully marbled foredges and endpapers, etc. The dust jacket was invented in 1832 and many early examples are here as well.

Let’s Go Inside

john king books detroit

You enter the parking lot on a blind curve and pull up to a bluish-grayish building with a giant faded glove painted on it, and park at a hard slant in the oddly angled driveway, which overlooks a busy expressway.

You enter the building and ascend into book heaven. That lovely characteristic “old book smell” of lignin acids breaking down in the pages of old books wafts up your nose like a curled finger of smoke in an old cartoon.

Wandering John King’s is a sort of calming, meditative experience and patrolling the old wood floors with you are a dedicated army of a dozen employees in red aprons.

john king books detroit

John King walking through John K. King Used & Rare Books in Detroit (photo by Ryan M. Place)

I walk inside and John King greets me. “One thing you should include in your article is we’re the only radio dispatched bookstore in the country. All employees have walkie-talkies here. That, plus I’m blessed to have a great staff of people using those radios.”

“ Tom Heitjan (aka: Tom Jr. ) the rare book room manager, Toni Caron the office manager, and Darlene Weaver have all worked for me since the 1980’s. Deb Lee , the store manager, has been with us since the early 1990’s. Let’s head to the basement, I got something to show you. Hey George,” John nods at a customer. He knows many customers by name. And there are thousands of regular weekly customers here.

John takes me downstairs and we find Tom Jr. and Steve sifting through hundreds of boxes of books. John is wearing a green Italian army jacket and starts dusting off books with a paint brush.

john king books detroit

Thomas W. Heitjan (aka: Tom Jr) the Rare Book Room Manager (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

“We just bought the entire collection of a book hoarder in Detroit. He died, so his heirs sold us his books, everything in his house and then at the end, they asked us if we wanted to buy his actual house along with it, so we did.”

“Everything is always busy. Very seldom can I sit down and have some free time. We did an estate in San Francisco a while back where the woman left a giant multi-million dollar mansion in the Sea Cliff neighborhood . I was called in for the books. When I got there, I found the books abandoned, neglected, covered in rat shit. So I’m up there flinging the rat shit off books, trying to find the buried treasure. Only ended up finding a box and a half of mediocre stuff. Here’s a woman worth tens of millions of dollars and she lived like a homeless person. She also drove an old Buick Century that was full of actual garbage. It was crazy.”

Tom Jr. chimes in, “We also just acquired a rare and highly coveted leaf of the Gutenberg Bible .”

John says, “Oh yeah, we gotta show that to him. Let’s go!”

John King: The Early Years

john king books detroit

John King (photo by Ryan M. Place)

“I was born in Detroit and grew up on the Southwest side near St. Andrews Parish on McGraw. I still visit the neighborhood pretty frequently. I have a dog. A white maltese named ‘ Sophie ’ and I usually take her down to Clark Park or the old Train Station on my bicycle with me since she fits right in the basket. Toni has a dog, too. A shih tzu pug named ‘ Charlie Dickens ’ and the two dogs get along great together.”

“I’m very glad to see El Club the music venue opened near Clark Park. When I was a kid, that building used to be an old Lithuanian Club. You had to have an actual key to get inside there, since it was a private social club. You’d go in there and it was a private bar with a bunch of Lithuanians drinking. Always some fun immigrants therein.”

john king books detroit

“I attended Fordson High School in Dearborn. It’s a really cool castle-looking building. My guidance counselor there was Elsie Freitag . Not only is she the reason I wasn’t a juvenile delinquent but she covered for me when I frequently skipped school to go sell books.”

john king books detroit

“I used to take the bus into Downtown Detroit all the time. Since I was only a kid, I could only go into bookstores in the Sixties. Detroit had about two dozen old bookstores back then. And I thought wow I can make money doing something I love: selling books!”

“I was an opportunist. I didn’t have a corner like a drug dealer. You know, I’ll shoot you if you start selling books on my block (laughs) it wasn’t like that. I was more peripatetic selling books out of the trunk of my 54 Packard. Later, I sold them out of a 59 Cadillac hearse .”

“Back in the old days, it was romanticized having a used bookstore. But the reality is you have to be tenacious. Running a successful bookstore goes by some but not all principles of business. I had no formal business education. Had to learn everything the hard way, had to learn by doing. I made all the classic rookie mistakes and even invented some new ones.”

john king books detroit

old store sign from John King store when it was at 214 Bagley Street (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

“Back in the 50’s and 60’s in Detroit, the golden age of Detroit used booksellers, the people who ran the bookstores were almost always very eccentric personalities. You know, Damon Runyon type characters. I found them interesting and entertaining and I learned the book trade by watching and through osmosis. There wasn’t a ‘How to Be a Used Bookseller’ book, you just had to get out there and start doing it.”

“Then I went to New York for a little bit to attend college, came back, attended Wayne State University on and off for seven years, selling books the entire time. Now I have no time for anything. I’m busy every day of the year hustling books. I should’ve stayed in school and become somebody and been retired by now.”

History of John K. King Used & Rare Books

john king books detroit

Tom Jr. (photo by Ryan M. Place)

John’s current main building, 901 W. Lafayette Blvd. , is actually his third location over the years. Tom Jr. fills in the gaps for us:

“This building was built in 1906 by an architect named Stratton . He later married Mary Chase Stratton , the Pewabic Tiles lady. Since he built this place before they met, there are no Pewabic tiles here. Up until 1929 this building was a hat factory. Then it became the Advance Glove Company .”

“When the expressway came, instead of knocking the building down, they physically moved the entire building here. In 1947 this building was put on Alabama gum wood rollers and rolled here from 250 feet down the block. Then in 1981, the glove company went bankrupt and left the building vacant until John purchased it in 1983. We officially opened here January 1 st , 1984.”

john king books detroit

John K. King’s bookstore when it was at 214 Bagley Street, Detroit

John chimes in:

“Yeah I had two other locations before this one. My very first actual store was in 1971 in Dearborn. It was located on West Warren Avenue at Miller Road across the street from the old Camelot Theater . We were there very temporarily, less than a year.”

“I was there against my will actually, meaning due to the building we were in. A sordid cast of people lived upstairs from us. Drug dealers, thieves, prostitutes, etc, a lot of really nice people. The cops were always coming in. And the very first person to come into my bookstore stole an expensive book. That’s how my bookstore career started. He stole a book on Civil War Regimental History . Him and his whole family were thieves. One of the guys, his cousin, used to get hired to work at museums just so he could steal stuff out of museums over time.”

“By the end of 1971, we had moved to the Michigan Theater building at 214 Bagley Avenue in Downtown Detroit and we were there until moving to this location in 1983.The Bagley location reminded me of the old 4 th Avenue bookstores in New York City.”

john king books detroit

“I also still own The Big Book Store on Cass , which we’re closing soon. Opened in the 1930’s, it’s Detroit’s oldest bookstore. It’s been at its Cass location and run by Bill Foulks since 1988. Over the years, we’ve mainly used it as a warehouse for duplicate books. Some German developers approached me recently about buying the building. They made me an offer I couldn’t refuse, so I sold the building. It’s nothing personal, just business.”

“We also own J ohn King Books North in Ferndale . That store opened July 1 st , 1988. Tom Jr. used to manage it one day a week for 15 years. Now, Jason Schusterbaue r is the current manager. There’s maybe 60,000 books there.”

“We have so many books, we could open ten book stores if we wanted, there’s just no time.”

John King’s Rare Book Building

john king books detroit

John’s Rare Book Annex (photo by Ryan M. Place)

Behind the main bookstore, there is a slightly smaller, prairie-style building with some added stained glass windows, which used to be an architect’s office. This building is John’s Rare Book Annex and is not open to the casual window-shopping public.

Thomas W. Heitjan, aka: Tom Jr., has been the Rare Book Room Manager here for years. Tom Jr. grew up on Detroit’s Eastside. He lived one block down from Richard ‘White Boy Rick’ Wershe on Hampshire Street. Tom Jr. has worked for John since 1985. Tom explains:

“We have about 30,000 books here. Toni Caron is our office manager and the Rare Book Annex is closed to the general public due to zoning and security issues. We would love to open it to the public, we just don’t have the ability to make it a tourist attraction.”

john king books detroit

“Once a year, we let the Detroit Historical Society do a public tour here. Otherwise, it’s for private collectors who are vetted and noted and display serious intent. For example, somebody flew in from New York City recently and bought $100,000 worth of books here for their own private library.”

“When we buy collections of books, we sometimes end up with collections of other things like circus posters, statues, etc. That’s how we acquired this interesting Medieval Scriptorium statue from Chicago.”

john king books detroit

Medieval Scriptorium statue from Chicago (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

“We do a lot of estate work, at least 2-3 per week. We travel all over the country to source books. John likes the Bay Area, so we’re out there several times per year for book collections. There was one estate in Daly City where no one but us attended. We ended up finding a treasure trove of old movie books signed by movie stars. Some books had 20+ signatures throughout the book.”

Some choice books at John King’s :

john king books detroit

leaf from the Gutenberg Bible (c. 1455 AD) photo by: Ryan M. Place

So, about that Gutenberg. John recently acquired a leaf from the Gutenberg Bible (1455 AD) . This is an incredibly rare piece. Tom Jr. explains:

“The Gutenberg leaf we have features the Gospel of St. Luke where Jesus is instructing his disciples on how to cast out daemons. Beelzebub is mentioned twice. It’s incredible to actually have a page from the world’s first printed book.”

john king books detroit

old books (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

Here is a short of list of some other goodies :

john king books detroit

Pablo Escobar Gaviria en caricaraturas 1983-91 (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

“ The Pablo Escobar book, yes this was drug dealer Pablo Escobar’s personal book. It features fun caricatures his friends put together from drug cartoons, his facsimile signature and then his actual signature and fingerprint. Very rare item. A copy not as good as ours, their version only has the facsimile signature, is currently for sale on Ebay in Miami for $100,000.”

john king books detroit

John’s Rarest Book: the one that got away

john king books detroit

The Curtis North American Indian Set

“The one I remember most vividly is The Curtis North American Indian set . We sold that in October 2012 for $1.44 million dollars at Swann Galleries in Manhattan.”

“The set consisted of 20 folios, 722 large photographs on Japanese tissue and 20 text volumes with 1500 smaller photos. The photos were so evocative, you almost wanted to cry looking at them, realizing how beautiful they are and how these people were just wiped out. The photos were printed over a ten year period. It was particularly rare because it was a totally complete set and also, many of the photos were signed by Curtis himself. I miss it.”

“When we can, we try to shake each book to see if any stray ephemera falls out. Sometime in the late 1980’s, our employee Tom Schlientz was shaking out a book one day and some Mark Twain photos fell out. These ended up being personal unpublished photos that were taken by Twain’s friend. The photos featured Twain riding in a wagon with a little girl and a horse. They were taken sometime around the turn of the century in Hartford, Connecticut. We sold the photos.”

Famous Customers at John King Books in Detroit

john king books detroit

John King store receipt inscribed by John K. King

John King Books is world famous. The list of well-known people who have been customers here is far too long and varied to include here. People like David Bowie, Hunter S. Thompson, Frank Zappa, Timothy Leary, David Byrne (Talking Heads), Jay Leno, Martin Sheen, Alice Cooper, Governors, Senators, the Levin brothers, Roger Smith head of GM, Kevin Barnes (Of Montreal), Sonny Elliott, Carmen Harlan, Edie Adams, Neil Giraldo, the famous British female impersonator Dame Edna , etc, hundreds of others.

john king books detroit

Tom Jr. displaying beautiful fore-edge painting (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

Here are some anecdotes from John King :

“ Charlie Watts , the drummer for the Rolling Stones, was just here with his bodyguard who stayed twenty feet from him at all times. Charlie collects jazz stuff and we sold him some great jazz books.”

“ Teller the Magician sends us a Christmas card every year saying we’re his favorite bookstore in the world.”

“Former Michigan Governor John Engler got along surprisingly well with my dog. My dog was a Democrat and still didn’t bite him. Engler turns into a mannequin on television but in-person he’s shockingly fun and lively.”

“Actor and Detroit native Curtis Armstrong comes here. He once went on an estate call with me. Curtis was in Moonlighting, Risky Business, the Revenge of the Nerd series, etc.”

“ Richard Gere actually shot a movie here inside our store back in 2011 called ‘The Double’.”

The Book Club of Detroit

john king books detroit

Great books (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

“A great guy named Tom Schlientz worked for me for about a million years. He took over Charlie Boesen’s bookstore and then worked for me. He was also one of the founding members of The Book Club of Detroit back in 1957. Tom started working for me in the late 1970’s and worked for me right up until his death in 2006. Through Tom, I became a lifetime member of the Book Club of Detroit.”

The Haunting of John King’s Book Store

john king books detroit

John King’s Bookstore is haunted (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

Many people think that John King’s Book Store is haunted. Over the years, there have been numerous reports from customers of supernatural & unexplainable phenomena including: footsteps and whisperings in empty hallways, lights turning on and off, feeling like they’re being watched, inanimate objects suddenly moving, doors and cabinets opening and closing, items disappearing and reappearing, feeling something lightly brush past them, unexplainable cold spots, etc .

“ Years ago, we bought an estate of a murder-suicide victim . When we moved her books and other objects to the 4 th floor, strange things started happening. Lights would go on and off randomly, we would hear bizarre noises, books would fall off the shelves by themselves. We weren’t scared, it was just irritating.”

john king books detroit

Tom Jr. chimes in:

“The paranormal people came in a few years ago and claimed to have located one authentic ghost. They told us that back when this was a factory, a man killed himself on the 3rd floor. He fell in love with a female co-worker. She rebuffed him, so he killed himself up there. And his ghost haunts the 3 rd floor.”

John King on The Future of The Book

john king books detroit

John K. King print catalog

Many people think that the book itself is doomed by technology, that people are only selling off personal collections and not buying books these days and that online sales have eclipsed regular store sales. According to John King, none of that is true.

“ The future of the book is secure. Books have lasted over 500 years and they’ll last another 500. If books were going to become obsolete, why is Amazon.com opening brick-and-mortar stores with physical books in them?”

“Right now, the Baby Boomers are croaking. Some of their subject collecting is fading. Those books that they collected so vigorously are no longer important to the next generation.”

john king books detroit

“It’s fluid, everything changes. Except for a few of the enduring classics, people’s tastes are fickle when it comes to books. You grow up with something and it’s in demand several decades later and then it’s gone.”

“Only a mere 10-15% of our sales are online. AbeBooks.com is our favorite online selling platform. We’re still basically a brick and mortar store and that’s where we’re most successful.”

“We discontinued our famous print catalogs about 10 years ago. However, we still have digital catalogs online. Again, we would love to do the print catalogs and could still afford to do them, except we just don’t have the time, staff or manpower to do it.”

John’s Final Thoughts

john king books detroit

Tom Jr. and John King on the roof of John King Books with the old Train Station in the background (photo by Ryan M. Place)

“We oftentimes deal with a lot of people who have unrealistic expectations of what their books are worth on the buyer’s market. Usually, it’s some nutty person who tells them ‘Oh, your book is rare, it’s expensive’ and then we have to be the bearer of bad news and give them a reality check. My policy is to be straightforward, to the point and up front about everything right from the get-go. I don’t mess around.”

“Also, a lot of people who should come here don’t come here because they’re still scared of Detroit. Downtown Detroit is safe now, it’s not like the old days. I remember back when we were at the Michigan Theater building and we were paid by a New York City bookseller to deliver a book to a Grosse Pointe customer. His customer could’ve just come down to our store and saved the New York price markup. We have customers who travel here from Japan, France, Italy, and other countries, so locals have no excuse.”

john king books detroit

John K. King Used & Rare Books (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

“Most people’s bookstore experiences are limited to going to Barnes & Noble. They only have maybe 10,000 books per store and it’s a confusing store. They encourage employees to be robots who have to look up on the computer every time to see where a book is located in their own store. We don’t need computers here. Each member of our staff is a knowledgeable expert with years of experience. Plus, there are no donuts or coffee here, just books. We have store maps, we’re better organized and have better prices, so come down and visit us, we’d love to see you!”

As you can tell, an entire book unto itself could be written about the history and importance of John King Books. A store that has factored into so many people’s lives over the years, it serves as a major literary conduit, a hub for all those interested in the pursuit of books.

John King thrived and prospered through one of the most economically tumultuous periods since the Great Depression, the Great Recession of 2008-2016 and he did it in the fair city of Detroit, no less! We’ve all been through some serious flak together here over the years.

john king books detroit

John King on the roof of John King Books with downtown Detroit in background (photo by: Ryan M. Place)

In 2013, the city of Detroit experienced Chapter 9 bankruptcy, the largest municipal bankruptcy in U.S. history. Over the decades, since the 1967 Detroit Riots, 50 years ago this year, we’ve experienced massive population loss and devastation. But Detroit is on the rise. Big time. And John King is still here, riding the crest of a new wave of growth and prosperity.

Part of the reason that I personally love going to John King’s is you never know what sort of great books you’re going to find. There’s always something different and the thrill of the hunt is exciting.

It was an honor being able to sit down with John King and Tom Jr. We are grateful for the existence of John King Books and deeply indebted for having such a tremendous resource in Detroit and thankful for all they’ve done for the community over the past several decades.

If you have never visited John’s store, or if you haven’t been there in awhile, do yourself a favor and get your butt down there to buy some great books!

john king books detroit

John K. King Used & Rare Books business card

John K. King Used & Rare Books homepage

www.rarebooklink.com

[email protected]

John King’s online store at Abe Books

https://www.abebooks.com/john-k-king-used-rare-books/171666/sf

john king books detroit

John King Books (12718 W. Warren, Dearborn) circa January 1972

john king books detroit

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Detroit Historical Society - Where the past is present

Encyclopedia Of Detroit

John King Books, or John K. King Used and Rare Books, is an independent bookseller in Detroit, Michigan that has an estimated one million books in its stock, including many rare titles. It is reputedly one of the major bookstores in the world. 

King always had an interest in buying and selling used books and antiques, and with the support of his high school guidance counselor, Elsie Freitag, he turned his hobby into a career, in the beginning selling books out of the trunk of his car. His first bookstore was established in 1971 in Dearborn. Later that year he moved his business to a rented location in the Michigan Theatre Building in downtown Detroit. 

Outgrowing that space in 1983 King decided to purchase a building of his own and bought the abandoned Advance Glove Factory on West Lafayette Street, a four-story building with basement, plenty of room to store and shelf the store’s books. The architect of the building was William Stratton, husband to  Pewabic Pottery ’s  Mary Chase Stratton . Soon after, he purchased the adjacent old Otis Elevator building, in which the collection’s rare and notable books are located and seen by appointment only.

The store gets many visitors each day looking for used titles, and to help them browse the collection they are given maps as they enter. It is the only bookstore in the country where staff communicate with walkie talkies. King also has two smaller stores, one near Wayne State University in Detroit’s  Cultural Center , and one in Ferndale, Michigan.

Detroit Historical Society - Where the past is present

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John K. King Used & Rare Books In Detroit, Michigan

by Cheryl Howard | Apr 25, 2021 | Destinations , Detroit , North America , United States , Unusual Places & Things | 2 comments

Detroit Bookstores - John K. King Used & Rare Books Reading Nook

John K. King Used & Rare Books In Detroit, Michigan – Estimated reading time: 7 minutes

I’m a lover of bookstores and libraries in general and whenever I travel, I tend to seek out those spaces. When I visited Venice, I toured the weird and offbeat, Libreria Acqua Alta Bookstore where the books are stuffed into gondolas and they have resident pet cats. During a weekend in Bucharest, I made sure to visit the Instagram darling, Cărturești Carusel , likely one of the most beautiful bookstores in the world. Instagram accounts like @concretelibraries also keep me inspired on a daily basis. 

When I made a trip to Detroit years back and started to research things to do, I came across John. K. King Used & Rare Books and knew this was a Detroit bookstore I needed to visit. 

John K. King Used & Rare Books In Detroit, Michigan

Detroit Bookstores - John K. King Used & Rare Books

John K. King Used and Rare Books is an independent bookstore in Detroit, Michigan that’s been around since 1965. Spanning an impressive four floors and 60,000 square feet of space (even the basement is put to use), there are around 1,000,000 books in stock covering over 900 subjects. More books can be found next door in the former Otis Elevator building, where the more rare and special titles are held.

Given that this bookstore is so huge and stocks so many titles, it’s no wonder that most people who visit the place end up spending hours. I personally spent an hour there and left with two books (I would’ve bought even more had I more room in my luggage). 

Detroit Bookstores - John K. King Used & Rare Books Cheryl Howard

John K. King Used and Rare Books is so massive that patrons are given maps when they enter the building. None of the books are catalogued electronically and they’re organized by category, subcategory, title, and author instead. The staff won’t be able to tell you what’s in stock, but should you have any questions, you can use phones located throughout the building and call the front desk. Even the staff communicate by walkie talkie as the roam the vast interiors. Check out their interactive map . 

As a teenager, John K. King had a passion for buying and selling used books and antiques. Encouraged by his high school guidance counselor, Elsie Freitag, who helped turned his hobby into a career, she used to dismiss him early from school on Fridays so he could set-up a table at a local antique show. He even used to sell books from the trunk of his car.

Finally his dream came true and he opened his first bookstore in Dearborn, Michigan in 1965. Later, King moved the bookstore to downtown Detroit at the Michigan Theatre. It wasn’t long though before his massive amount of stock made him outgrow the space. For a while, he rented offices in the building, where customers would be sent on frenzied missions through the building, traversing up and down the stairs with keys in hand, attempting to locate the exact room holding the collection of books they were looking for. In 1983, the bookstore moved to its current location in the then abandoned Advance Glove factory.

Detroit Bookstores: John K. King Used & Rare Books Interior

If you’re on the hunt for a rare title, browse their website . You’ll find gems like copies of To Kill a Mockingbird signed by the author or a first edition of No One Writes to the Colonel and Other Stories by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. To see these books, call and make an appointment as they’re held away from the general public.

King has also uncovered some rare finds over the years, including an original photo of Mark Twain contained in a Twain bio, as well as a pamphlet signed by John F. Kennedy which was found in a box of old library papers. The bookstore has also attracted its fair share of celebrities including American senators and governors, musicians like Charlie Watts of the Rolling Stones, and others from the Hollywood establishment like Jay Leno and Ryan Gosling.

Detroit Bookstores: John K. King Used & Rare Books Subjects

Recommended reading: This amusing article chronicling some unusual book choices discovered by some people who spend a fun time at the bookstore – We went to Detroit’s John King to look for weird books – here’s what we found

There’s currently another bookstore location in Ferndale and there used to be another called, The Big Book Store near Wayne State University, which sadly closed . Despite that closure, the main bookstore has held on through several turbulent decades which saw Detroit on a devastating downward economic decline. Even with the rise of the big bookstore chains and online retailers like Amazon, John K. King Used and Rare Books has persevered.  Says King, “Our mission statement — we didn’t know it existed back then — was to sell good used and rare books. We never really varied from that.”

Does John K. King Used & Rare Books sound like one of the Detroit bookstores you’d like to visit? Let us know in the comments below. 

Good To Know

1) John K. King Used and Rare Books is open daily from 9:30 am – 5:30 pm.

2) Most books will fetch you between $3 and $5 US, with rare titles costing well into the thousands!

3) If you have mobility issues, ask one of the friendly staff to accompany you to the elevator and take you to the floor of your choice.

4) If you can’t find a book that you’re looking for, just ask, as the store has thousands of books in storage.

5) Looking for other places to stay when you’re in Detroit? Check out your options on booking.com.

6) Get to know Detroit on a deeper level and take one of these fabulous guided tours:

7) If you’re looking for North America travel inspiration, give some of these popular posts a read.

If you like this post, share it on  Pinterest .

Detroit Bookstores - John K King Used & Rare Books Cheryl Howard Pin

I’m old-fashioned when it comes to books. I love the smell of walking into a book store and holding the book in my hands as I read it. These bookstores look like paradise to me!

Cheryl Howard

I am very much the same! I seriously could have stayed there for hours on end.

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John K. King Used & Rare Books

This sprawling bookstore spans four floors and has more than a million books in stock. .

john king books detroit

As soon as you walk into John K. King Bookstore, an employee will hand you a map. With a collection that spans four massive floors, you’ll certainly need it to find your way around—although you might want to get lost in the stacks.

John King started collecting and selling rare and used books while he was still in high school, leaving class early on Fridays to set up a table at antique shows. He opened his first store in Dearborn , Michigan, in 1971, before moving into Detroit ’s famous Michigan Theater Building .

He quickly outgrew his storefront in the movie theater-turned-parking garage, renting other offices in the building to hold his growing collection and sending customers on mad hunts up and down staircases and through the building’s hallways with keys to the room that held the collection they were looking for.

In 1983, he purchased the giant, abandoned Advance Glove factory, which is where John K. King Used & Rare Books still lives today. The sprawling, four-story building houses a collection of more than a million books, from signed copies of Ernest Hemingway novels to free copies of old phone books and magazines.

The bookstore has seen some incredible gems in its day, including original photos of Mark Twain tucked into a Mark Twain biography and a small pamphlet from the 1950s (pulled from a box of library discarded ephemera) with a signed presentation from the junior senator from Massachusetts , one John F. Kennedy.

Whether you’re looking for a copy of Mao Tse Tung’s Little Red Book or an obscure piece of 1920s German erotica, you’ll find what you’re looking for here—along with just about everything else old and almost forgotten.

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    John K. King Used and Rare Books is an independent bookstore in Detroit, Michigan that's been around since 1965. Spanning an impressive four floors and 60,000 square feet of space (even the basement is put to use), there are around 1,000,000 books in stock covering over 900 subjects.

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