Photograph by Philip Steffen

Chaparral Books is a destination for Indigenous, Western history

Chaparral Books, located at 5210 South Corbett Avenue, is a 15 minute walk south of the Moody and Lowell Pioneer Express stop. The store’s gray facade faces the road with a number of large windows that reveal warmly lit shelves of books from several blocks away.

The central hallway of the store, where patrons enter, is a combination showroom and workspace, with a number of rare and ornately bound books. At the register, which is surrounded by several unique display pieces and works-in- progress, an employee named Veronica explains the store’s mixed business model and clientele.

“A lot of it is either neighborhood people or book scouts who go all over the region buying books for resale,” Veronica said. “We sell most (used books) online, and also bring some of that into the store.”

Taking a left from the hallway brings visitors into the store’s main room. Here, light ’50s Jazz plays on the radio, and books are organized into a wide range of sections depending on their genre. Of particular interest are the Art and Design shelves, which contain a number of large art books on subjects ranging from costume design and architecture to artistic political protest and photography of Midwestern grain elevators.

Moving towards the back of this room, visitors are greeted by a large selection of books on Black and Indigenous history in the U.S., as well as a number of shelves devoted to the history and environment of the Pacific Northwest.

As Veronica explains, the store is specifically focused on literature in these genres.

“The owner specializes in Western Americana and Native American Studies,” Veronica said. “John, the owner, is from New Mexico, so that’s kind of where his love for books comes from.”

The store is, of course, not limited to these genres, a fact exemplified by a large children’s book section towards the back, as well as an adjacent and extensive selection of cookbooks and craft guides.

The store’s real specialty lies, however, in the back room. Whereas the store’s main room has the feel of a more traditional book store, the back room has the tight, cramped feel of a personal collection, complete with the strong and pleasant scent of aging paper and binding. The focus on the western U.S. is very evident there, with a greater depth than most libraries, and with whole shelves dedicated to various Native American tribes and U.S. states.

Like the front room, the books here, along with the various collected pamphlets and magazines, are all for sale. Of particular interest in this room is the selection of antique posters, postcards and U.S. Geological Survey maps, which provide great opportunities for eclectic room decoration.

Out of the back room and back at the register, Veronica advertises how Chaparral Books functions as a buyer of books, perhaps more so even than as a seller.

“A lot of people bring us their books, and we occasionally acquire larger collections,” Veronica said. “Anybody can just come in and say I’m downsizing, or my dad just died and I have all of these books that I want to get rid of.”

Whether students are in the market for new books, or (with the move out season approaching) in the market to sell books, Chaparral Books is a great place to go.

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