841 Union Street, Schenectady, NY
The bookshops in Schenectady each have a distinct and individual feel to them, hitting a different sweet spot across the spectrum of what a bookstore can be—new, old, musty and dusty, cozy and clean, on and on. The moment I came across W Somers Bookseller on Union Street, I knew it would fall into the musty and dusty realm, but for what it lacked in brightness and order, it made up for in volume and diversity.
W Somers is a veritable pack rat’s dream, with piles and stacks growing haphazard on every possible surface. They deal almost entirely in used, antique, and hard-to-find books, although I did find a scant few pristine new hardcovers mixed in here and there. And there’s a discount nook right when you walk in with a variety of ancient tomes and recognizable names, mainly the classics from the nineteenth and twentieth century.
Many of the used books were more on the worn side, with dust jackets or cloth covers looking very much their age, but the piles were fascinating to sift through. For example, I’d never seen maritime books broken down into so many subcategories, and any bookshop with a subsection specifically for Pirate/Nonfiction is okay by me.
They had a nice signed/first edition section tucked away to the far left the moment you walk in, kind of hidden up behind a little banister, but it’s there, and I saw a few Stephen Kings I already owned but these were nice first editions nonetheless. They were likely the “newer” books in the shop, as many of the others were printed when your grandfathers were playing hooky to get themselves a malted with their best girls before catching the newest talkie in the local theater. Book hunting here was a fun but haphazard exploration through literary memory lane.
In the end, I walked away with three, a book about old sailing ships ($5), one about the first crusade ($5), and Savage Country by Robert Olmstead, one of the few newer books in the shop that was marked down to a mere $3. Not a bad haul.
Atmosphere — Dense piles and narrow aisles full of boxes, books, and that almost too-strong scent of aging paper. But not too strong for true believers.
Quality — 98% used, and by used I mean used. Lots of old books here.
Quantity — A ton of old books, few to none new.
Diversity — For nonfiction, there’s quite a diversity of topics, but within the topics there can be limited diversity, as they all skew very old. For example, the philosophy books were mainly Freud and Jung, for good or ill.
Affordability — Since they’re all used, they’re pretty affordable, unless you’re getting into rare or supremely old and sought-after titles.
Amenities — Nowhere to sit, but plenty of narrow aisles to edge around. You’re here for snooping after books and that’s it.
Location — Not too far from downtown Schenectady, but not walkable from there either. It’s set in a residential stretch of Union Street with street parking.
Customer Service — The staff were present but mostly busy behind their stacks of books at the “front” desk.
Overall — This shop can keep you for hours if you love ancient tomes and old books, or it can repel you in minutes if you’re looking for something recent and new. Just be aware of what you’re after when you come here. It’s either perfect for you, not a mere curiosity.