Nestled onto the downtown McKinney square, Jim Parker and his three-year-old schnauzer Abby welcome customers into their storefront and online to purchase from a collection of thousands of rare, collectible books.
Having travelled to Germany, Spain, Belgium, France and everywhere in between, these books and their owner have found a home on the McKinney square.
“I was in the corporate world for 30 years and travelled all over and I would buy books,” Parker said. “First edition Hemingways, Steinbecks, Faulkners, wherever I found them and where I could afford them. All through that time, I amassed about 5,000 books at my house. My wife decided she wanted a couple of rooms back and I came down here and opened the business.”
After working internationally from age 25 to 55, Parker opened The Book Gallery 10 years ago in the basement of the bank, but has since taken over the building of a former bakery. It was a minor in literature from what is now the University of North Texas that Parker said helped him know what books he would chose to add to his collection. When it comes to his favorite, it is a tossup.
“It’s between Hemingway’s Old Man and the Sea and Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men or Faulker’s Light in August or Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby,” he said. “I like that period; I like the period of the first 50 years of the 20th century. In my collection at home I have a big collection of those.”
Being the only bookstore like this to open in the past 10 years, the business suits the uncommon feel of the square. This has garnered the attention of many, with featured articles in Southern Living, Colin County Business and Star Community Newspapers.
“This is a very unique retailing area,” Parker said. “We lived in McKinney, so this just fit right in. This is great. What I really like about it is that at Christmas they do the Dickens festival and I’ve got all kind of Dickens —everything he ever wrote. We dress up in Victorian apparel and wander around the streets and get our picture taken with tourists. It’s really fascinating. Tourists are all in town with their kids and grandkids, they either go to Nordstrom’s and shop all day or wander around 100 different shops and they have a ball with it.”
Even though the owner has lived in McKinney for 20 years, this impressive collection hasn’t only been popular on the square, but also internationally so.
“Probably half of our online purchases —and we’ve got over 1,000 books online — are from Europe, because they all speak English,” Parker said. “In their schools they have taken English as a second language since the World War was over and they know the good American authors and they want to buy them.”
The most popular books with customers are from the military and science fiction sections, including books about World War II units to science fiction novels from Bradbury, Asimov and Clarke. But Parker said his most memorable find remains the 1599 Geneva Bible he purchased in Switzerland.
“Me and my wife travel a lot,” he said. “We go to the east coast, west coast. There are more readers on the east and west coast than there are in Texas. If we really want to pick out some good Americana, Civil War, we go to Virginia and North Carolina and South Carolina because they have those books. If we want to pick up more of the Beat writers or Steinbeck we go to San Francisco.”
When it comes to his competition, mostly eBooks and chains, Parker and his store remind customers of the value in sometimes reading a paperback. That’s where he’s doing something that your new, colorful Kindle can’t.
“Someone would love to spend an hour in here just wandering around looking at old friends,” he said. “What you have to remember is that people can’t decorate with Kindles and Nooks; they just don’t look as good on the shelf.”
Photos by TSB’s Sawyer Erickson. See of all the pictures with this story in the Image Gallery above.