Swimming in stories: Bountiful’s Book Garden offers a sea of used titles

Here, the proper shelf life for any book is ‘forever’

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune). The Book Garden on Main Street in Bountiful, Utah, on Wednesday, June 2, 2021.

Editor’s note • This article is part of 150 Things To Do, a reporting project and newsletter exploring the best that Utah has to offer. Click here to sign up for the 150 Things weekly newsletter.

Main Street in Bountiful is a place so quaint that Hallmark has filmed movie scenes there. And, picturesque as it is, one of those small brick storefronts hides one of the most sprawling collections of used books in the Intermountain West.

Welcome to The Book Garden, Bountiful’s local used book store and — according to owner LeAnn Jorgensen — possibly the biggest trading bookstore in the state. Located at 2 North Main Street in Bountiful, people come from as far as Idaho to trade in their books and browse the store’s 150,000 book catalogue, Jorgensen said. That many books easily fills the store’s multiple floors, along with extensive off-site storage.

The store first opened in 1985 as the Bountiful Paperback Exchange. The original owners had amassed such an extensive collection of romance books that they decided they could start a store with them, Jorgensen explained. (Turns out they were right.) When Jorgensen and her husband, Ben, took over the business in 2001, they changed the name to The Book Garden.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune). The Book Garden on Main Street in Bountiful, Utah, on Wednesday, June 2, 2021.

The store’s collection of books is so expansive, they didn’t even begin tracking inventory until the late 2000s. They often pull books that have been on the shelves for a decade or more.

It has become a point of pride that The Book Garden avoids getting rid of books — unless it’s headed home with a new reader. “We kind of like that,” Jorgensen said, “because then you have a huge selection. They’re not doing us any harm [in storage].”

Out with the old, in with the new-to-you

The Book Garden’s main floor features extensive young adult, fiction, classics and a variety of other genres. Towards the back, the trade paperback section ranges from children’s books to westerns to — you guessed it — shelves upon shelves of romance novels. Head downstairs to keep browsing everything from mystery to fantasy, and to find a hardback section where every title costs exactly two dollars.

When customers bring in books to exchange for in-store credit, cashiers determine their value and clarify if the customer wants to keep any books that can’t be accepted. One other option: The Book Garden team often collects these items and ensures that they are donated elsewhere.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune). The Book Garden on Main Street in Bountiful, Utah, on Wednesday, June 2, 2021.

In Jorgensen’s view, used bookstores continue to survive in an age of online shopping and chain bookstores because they offer things that larger booksellers can’t.

For some, it’s a question of cost. Shoppers can go home with two full bags of books for the amount they might spend on the retail price of a few new releases. Other people, Jorgensen explained, just enjoy books that have been well-loved — the hidden annotations, the dog-eared pages that hint at prior readers’ thoughts, the connection we feel when passing along (or picking up) a title that someone adores.

With friends like these...

One of the best parts of running a used bookstore, Jorgensen said, is that so many customers have become her friends. Those friendships sustained The Book Garden during the challenges and unknowns of COVID-19. Customers kept shopping, adapted to curbside pickup and sometimes called just to say they were thinking about the store.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune). The Book Garden on Main Street in Bountiful, Utah, on Wednesday, June 2, 2021.

She has also found that, contrary to stereotypes, younger generations are often the ones seeking out physical books.

“They have a great appreciation for older books, or just an actual book to hold rather than their Kindle,” Jorgensen said. “Sometimes even more [than older generations].”

Editor’s note • 150 Things To Do is a reporting project and weekly newsletter made possible by the generous support of the Utah Office of Tourism. Sign up for the 150 Things newsletter here.