4 Old South Street, Northampton, MA
Walking through the clustered bars and busy restaurants of downtown Northampton long after dark, long after our first, second, maybe third drink, we came upon the storefront for Raven Used Books by accident, as I was only in town for the night and had no idea it was waiting for me. We eagerly detoured our journey to the next bar to explore the rooms and aisles of this lovely, lively shop. My only regret was that we couldn’t stay long, because the sheer volume of interesting books at excellent values could have kept me for hours.
Going through the door and down the stairs, you’ll find the shop is set kind of halfway below street level, with a few windows high in the wall offering glimpses of the sidewalk scenes and other nearby stores. Otherwise, the place feels like the basement level of Strand in NYC, where the basement-like rooms and halls twist around and sometimes lead you into dead ends, and sometimes bringing you back to the more open areas near the entrance. The rooms have fake trees and are brightly lit, giving them a comforting vibe. Displays and stand-alone units are piled with books of all varieties, including some showing new academia titles (something they specialize in), university press offerings, new fiction, old pulp racks, pre-teen and YA sections, Beat poets, science and psychology, recent bestsellers, t-shirts and bags, and much more.
My notes describing the different rooms and how categories and genres were broken down are near gibberish, as I was trying to scan quickly before moving along to my next hangover-inducing cocktail at The Green Room, but the shop really is a marvelous place for a book lovers to wander. The titles are stuffed into the shelves vertically and horizontally, any which way they can get them in to make use of space. And for being within a half-hour of closing the shop was surprisingly packed, and a few kids even camped out on the floor in the children’s area reading and flipping picture book pages.
My visit was brief, but my intrigue is sky high and I cannot wait for my next visit to Raven Used Books. Next time I’ll be sharp of mind and full of time, ready to fill up my arms with books to bring home. From my very brief visit I can confidently say you’ll enjoy doing the same should you stumble in, whether on purpose of accident.
Atmosphere — A lively shop even late in the evening, with a maze of books and displays and rooms to explore.
Quality — The books looked to be in great condition, and most displays could have been from “new” bookshops.
Quantity — Loads of books for a modestly-sized shop. They really do take advantage of every inch they can find.
Diversity — Very broad, with all manner of history, poetry, fiction, academic, small press, and enough YA, kids, and teen titles to keep younger readers interested.
Affordability — Very affordable, I saw most were discounted to very affordable and alluring prices.
Amenities — It’s mostly books, with a couple spots to sit if I recall (I wasn’t of the clearest mind this trip). They buy books as well, but check their website before going to do that. They only want the best so they can sell the best.
Location — Tucked into the nest downtown shops, bars, hotels, and restaurants of Northampton, I can see why this store is supremely located to be a literary linchpin in the region.
Customer Service — I didn’t get a chance to interact but they seemed busy and present.
Overall — This shop is fun to explore and deserves more of my attention the next time I pass through. With mountains of books and a lively atmosphere, Raven Used Books would be a regular stop of mine if I lived closer.