Berkley’s Hidden Stories

The neon sign hanging in the display window of Second Hand Books. The store sits between an art shop and an abandoned tattoo shop about 15 minutes away from Seaholm. PHOTO / TAYLOR WYLLIE

The dog laid, curled on the floor, breathing deeply in what was almost, but not quite, a snore.  He’s a Shih Tzu, with a mix of dark grey and white fur and only one eye.

“[That’s] Little Billy Bones: the one eyed munchkin pirate dog,” the man behind the desk said. “Billy Bones is the name of the first pirate in Treasure Island- one of my favorite books ever.”

The man behind the desk is Craig Macneill, known simply as Mac to his friends. He’s a rather conspicuous man, donning thin rimmed glasses, the lens of which are tinted a dull, light yellow. He has a thin strip of graying hair around the outer circumference of his mostly bald head, and a full, thick beard and mustache combo he’ll occasionally play with as he thinks.

But, what’s most noticeable about “Mac” is his love of books. Short stories, and long novels, and hard-covers, and paperbacks overflow the shelves around him, spilling onto chairs and tables. The smell of musty, crinkled pages is unmistakable in every inch of the room, from the green plant in the store’s display, to the back door and only entrance. 

“There’s this old line that teachers used to use a long time ago, teachers and librarians,” Macneill said. “Books [are] like ships that will take you to other times and places…”

Macneill is the owner and only employee of Second Hand Books– a used book store tucked in between an art gallery and abandoned tattoo shop within driving distance of Seaholm. He comes into work around 11:30 each day, leaving by about 7:30 in the evening. During these hours he’s able to read books of his own, and meet the quirky people that he claims make his job.

“I really get to meet some really nice to really strange people,” Macneill said. “Used book stores sometimes tend to attract crazies. When I say crazies I mean people that range from being delightfully eccentric to truly nuts. The delightfully eccentric are just wonderful to meet.”

Macneill grew up in the east side of Detroit, raised by his mother and step-father in a family full of children. His mother passed down her love of reading to him, her eldest boy.

“My mother was an avid reader. I was used to books being around the house from the start and I was eager to learn how to read,” Macneill said. “I had been read to. As far back as I can remember there was always books around.”

He originally worked at a printing company, but by 1990 realized that the trade was no longer for him.

“I had enjoyed the trade, out of high school I apprenticed as a printer… [My boss] loved the business, he loved his employees. He was a dictator of course, but he was a benevolent dictator who really did want us to be happy and do well,” Macneill said. “He died and his wife remarried and brought in a total jerk who didn’t know anything about the business and knew even less about how to deal with people. Important people in the business started quitting…I felt it was time to leave.”

When a good friend of his offered to sell him her used book store, he jumped at the opportunity.

The platform of Secondhand Books is simple. He’ll accept donated books from members of the community, or occasionally buy them if these books are “gems”. Then he’ll do research- either on the internet or in the thick, red reference “books about books” lined up behind his desk to find the appropriate price.

“[Pricing] is probably the thing that takes the longest to learn,” Macneill said. “It’s hard to say. For the most part I try to sell them for about 50%, if it’s common, fairly current, 50% of the original cover price.”

He once sold a book, a first edition of A Confederacy of Dunces by William Kennedy Toole, to a collector for $700. But that was rare, and most days he sits inside his little store, filled to the brim with books of all shapes and sizes, from all different centuries, waiting, hoping for customers.

“The most challenging part,” Macneill said, leaning back, hands playing with his beard. “Selling enough books to stay in business.”

Second Hand Books  3155 W. 12 Mile

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