Downtown Detroit is an interesting place. There’s good. There’s bad. And in between the two, there’s John K. King Used & Rare Books.
The five-story building towers above W. Lafayette Boulevard like a veteran elementary school principal, watching the countless setbacks and little triumphs of everyday life unfold without batting an eye.
Much like this seasoned educator, the repurposed factory’s tired exterior shrouds an unprecedented amount of knowledge. But rather than taking the form of grey matter crammed underneath a balding scalp, the wisdom of King’s is pressed onto musty pages and filed onto hundreds of shelves.
It’s drafty inside the bookstore. The ancient wooden floors creak and the scent of parchment, ink and decaying leather linger as you pan through the stacks. Looking for Steinbeck? Kerouac? Or Hunter S. Thompson? You’re in luck.
The staff at King’s is a pretty lenient bunch. They’ll let you wander the structure until they cut the power. They’ll let you sit on the stairs and read. They’ll even let you turn on the space heater.
But they won’t let you enter the magazine room — ever.
Allegedly, there is a catacomb of magazines dating back to the ‘40s hidden beneath the place. I’ve begged, prodded and even spoke with Mr. King himself about making my way down there. It’s just not possible.
There is, however, one other option. After scrawling a quick list of magazines — think Rod & Custom, Hot Rod, Hop Up, Car Craft, etc. — on a scrap of paper, a brave employee agrees to delve into the basement with walkie-talkie in hand.
I anxiously watch the clock as the day slips away. Has something terrible happened to my new acquaintance? Was there a robbery? A flood? Or some sort of structural failure?
With a rush, a swoosh and a thwap, all fears are acquitted by the two-foot stack of Peterson gold positioned in front of me.
Hours pass and cuts are made. So why pick one issue over another? Simple — it’s all about strength of content, which obviously includes both quality and quantity.
And that’s why, when given the choice, I always fall for a classic form of magazine seduction — the Double Feature.
Check out this fine example from the March 1964 Rod & Custom that I picked up on my first trip to King’s around 2006.