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Cash or Trade?

Where to Sell Your Used Books in SF -- and How!

If you've ever been faced with teetering bookshelves stuffed with mysteries, stacks of vintage paperbacks, or jumbled piles of historical biographies, and you hadn't a clue where to bring them to maximize their resale value, then this article is for you. San Francisco has long been a magnet for literary types and transient readers and we are blessed with as many types of used bookstores as there are genres.

When I worked for a rare bookshop, we'd often buy huge collections and have boxes of books left over that we couldn't use. That excess tonnage needed to be disposed of somehow and I could keep all the profits. What a gig but where to go? Some stores are picky, some are cheap, some buy only the esoteric, some only paperbacks.

After years of lugging boxes here and there and testing the local waters, I've narrowed my personal top picks for reselling your stock of unwanteds to these stores: Aardvark Books in the Castro-Duboce area, Dog-Eared Books in the Mission, and Acorn Books in Russian Hill. Of course there are many others to explore, but these three offer great options.

Remember that every bookbuyer is unique and favors his or her own tastes but also has an eye for what moves in and out of the store. Ah, demographics.

First stop to sell for me is Aardvark Books located at Church and Market. It has an excellent used fiction selection and a nice stock in Art, History, and Gay-Lesbian titles. Because the store has high-turnover of stock, it pays top-dollar and trade credit for quality, very-good condition used books. To boot, the staff is as nice as can be, especially if you get to know them a little bit. Don't bring Tom Clancy or romance novels -- Aardvark steers away from mass-market type books, as do many local stores.

Next is Dog-Eared Books. This store carries a sweet selection of remainders, new books, used books, comics and zines, and CDs and tapes. Dog-Eared is strong in fiction and literature, and it buys used stock from all categories (including CDs). Buyers offer more trade than cash, but your trade credit goes a long, long way -- you can use it to buy everything in the store except the glass-encased collectibles. Dog-Eared also offers a "free" box out front where you can unload anything that doesn't sell. Credit can be used at sister-store Phoenix Books in Noe Valley, which increases the browsing potential.

Last but not least is Acorn Books on Polk. It carries the biggest and broadest selection of books with 40,000 tomes. Mostly a generalist bookstore, it also has sizeable collections of San Francisco and California history, Belles Lettres and rare books. Buyers at Acorn are more likely to consider the unusual and odd items, pamphlets, vintage maps, etc. Acorn offers much more trade than cash, but if you're looking for that long OOP (out-of-print) title, this is your best bet.

It's best to call and make sure a buyer is around before dropping by to sell your excess books. Books should be clean inside and out, not highlighted, ragged, or moldy. Forget about selling those old Reader's Digests, college textbooks, and dated, partial encyclopedia sets --nobody else wants them either! And if a store rejects your books, ask them if they can suggest a store that might be interested in what you have -- they're usually more than happy to point you in the right direction.

Phoneix Books and Records
3850 24th St.
San Francisco, CA