Of course, it’s possible to get lost in a book, if the book is engrossing.
Is it possible to get lost in a bookstore?
Rows of tall-and-stacked book shelves seem to go on forever at Gardner’s Used Books, 4421 S. Mingo Road.
If shelves weren’t parallel, browsers might have to navigate a maze. Instead, they’re probably just amazed.
So many books ...
“I’ve got probably close to a million books in the bookstore today,” owner Richard Gardner said. “And then I’ve got two or three other warehouses that probably have another five or six hundred thousand.”
Gardner — anybody own more books? — is arguably the king of books in Tulsa. His store turned 25 this year and, needing additional floor space to display inventory, he converted an automotive shop behind the store into an annex, which sells discount items (no book more than $2) on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays.
Maybe Gardner will need to expand again. He said he gets 4,000 or 5,000 books per day.
“We will have this all filled up with books,” Gardner said while standing next to an area of the store where customers bring in books to sell or swap.
“There are really not a lot of stores in Tulsa buying books anymore. They will trade books for you, but they won’t pay cash for them. And we do pay cash.”
Sometimes book purchases arrive in bulk. Gardner mentioned acquisitions of 25,000 books from a store in Austin, Texas, and 38,000 books from a professor in Edmond.
Is there such a thing as having too many books? Gardner has an answer.
Gardner, who operates Gardner’s Tax Service about a mile away from the bookstore, started selling books out of boxes in 1991. A start-up inventory of 384 books came from his personal stash.
“I started building bookcases with my sons,” he said. “My daughter was 11 years old at that time, and she ran the front (of the store). I opened up in May, so she worked all through the summer ringing up the sales. It was so funny because many of the clients would buy the books and she would make the change and then they would go over and count the change to make sure they weren’t shorted by an 11-year-old. And she never made a mistake. Now she works up at my tax service a lot of times, so she’s still good with numbers.”
A person probably doesn’t entertain the idea of opening a bookstore unless that person loves reading. Gardner is an avid reader who sometimes checks out other book stores when traveling.
“There’s just not enough time in the day to read everything you want to read,” he said.
Gardner said reading brings back good memories from when he was a kid. He said his family used to get the morning and evening newspapers. TV fare about World War II got him interested in reading about history. History books are still a favorite. He used to get reading material at long-gone Terry’s Old Book Store (founded 1924) in downtown Tulsa.
Asked if he opened a store because he felt there was a void, Gardner said, “Basically. But I never thought it would be this big or overwhelming.” He credited employees and customers for the growth.
As the store evolved, Gardner began selling comic books, magazines, graphic novels, posters, record albums, CDs, DVDs and trading cards.
“Whatever people bring through the door, that’s what we buy,” Gardner said, acknowledging that he likes “stuff.” He said he bought 15,000 posters from a Denver company that went out of business last year.
You’ll see the Hulk in the store and in the annex. Gardner bought two colossal Hulk figures for $2,500 because he wanted to treat customers to eye candy. Then he acquired two more. One found a home at his tax business. Captain Kirk’s Enterprise chair and Han Solo (frozen in carbonite) are part of the decor in the annex.
Besides cardboard stand-ups of Ron Burgundy, Boba Fett and Michonne from “The Walking Dead,” you never know who else you might spot among the million-plus books. Gerry Mullinex, who has worked at the store since 1992, said famous visitors include “Doctor Who” actor Sylvester McCoy in 2011 and rocker Glenn Danzig in 2015.
McCoy was in town for a convention. Said Mullenix, “He waited around for quite a while for us to get a chance to talk to him a little bit here and there between doing our job.”
The 21st century hasn’t been kind to bookstores and book chains. But Gardner feels like his store brings enjoyment to people. Buying a used book can be cheap entertainment, and, never mind e-books — there are plenty of people who like the feel of a “real” book in their hands.
“You work on a computer all day, you don’t want to come home and read another computer for another two or three hours,” he said.
The store brings him enjoyment, too. He said he works there a few hours every week. He wants to be a participant and not just the guy whose name is on the business. He said he goes through some boxes of books himself.
“I’m not really looking for books to make a big profit on,” he said. “I’m just looking for books that I like to take home and read.”
Gardner said he has donated books to schools and charities because he wants to spur interest in reading. He also has books and comics on site at his tax service because he wants people to read.
“It makes us better citizens and makes them better people,” he said. “If you don’t read, it’s not good for you.”
So is it possible to have too many books? Gardner said you can have too many books if space at home is limited. “But as far as a bookstore goes, you can never have too many books.”