Window shopping: The Book Loft

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

A 32-room bookstore might sound like some sort of optical-illusion sideshow.

But you really do need a map and an afternoon to find your way around The Book Loft, a German Village institution whose 32 rooms include some as tiny as about 2 feet by 6 feet.

It's a peruser's paradise.

And thanks to its quirky character, slow-motion feel and constant discounts, it keeps a loyal following from defecting to big-box bookstores.

The shop started with just eight rooms when it opened in 1977, but it's gradually expanded into two buildings full of small shops.

"When a store's lease would end, we'd knock the wall down and move in, and later knock another wall down and move in," said Roger Tompkins, who founded The Book Loft and is one of its three owners.

Of course, the shop's offerings have changed since 1977, too. At first, New York Times bestsellers weren't even on the shelves. Customer demand changed that quickly, though, and the store's also come to specialize in Celtic and jazz CDs.

These days, each room contains a different genre and is mapped out on handouts staffers provide to people whose eyes bulge when they walk in.

The owners have recently begun adding DVDs - not necessarily movies, though. Instead, book- or history-related titles from the History Channel and A&E are becoming a specialty.

The books span almost every imaginable subject area, and each title - whether a new release or a closeout - is discounted, from 5 percent and up. Most of the rooms, which aren't divided by doors, get character from various tunes coming from the stereo systems perched on the upper shelves.

No space goes unused: In a tiny, closet-like area made smaller by a staircase running overhead, a collection of motorcycle books fill several short shelves.

And on walls like along staircases and hallways, the space doesn't go to waste.

"We can't put books on the wall, so we put posters," Tompkins said.

The German Village staple has gained notoriety as it's expanded. It's become a destination for tourists and day-trippers from all over Ohio and as far as Pittsburgh. Celebrities have been known to drop in, too - Bill Clinton tried to once, but security couldn't fathom clearing the place - and on June 5, The Book Loft will test its capacity limits when David Sedaris comes in for a book reading and signing.

The Book Loft

631 S. Third St., German Village



Hours: 10 a.m.-11 p.m. Sunday-Thursday, 10 a.m.-12 a.m. Friday-Saturday

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