For Houston's avid bibliophiles, Becker's Books is a must-visit destination. The 3,500 square-foot Spring Branch house is a maze of shelves boasting rows upon rows of tomes. The building itself is home to some 80,000 titles, with room for more.
"We just kept shoehorning more in and trying to find some place to put some more," Dan Becker says. "Our house right now has three rooms of floor-to-ceiling books that I'm going through. They are supporting the ceiling."
"To his credit, he does keep the other rooms pretty clean," his wife Ann jokes. In addition to the shop and the impromptu home storage, there are two warehouses that bring their total to a whopping quarter million books.
Originally started as what Becker calls "small bookstores - kind of glorified book stalls - at two different antique malls," his bookstore found its home at 7405 Westview in 1992. Since then, the Beckers have built out every spare space into more shelves, giving the home an almost fairytale quality. Packed inside are books from every genre imaginable, from literature to magazines, histories and mysteries of all sorts, children's books, Texana, cooking (which of course are located in the old kitchen), rare books and much more.
"Any time you have to move books, it's like moving bricks. So we said, 'screw this, we need a permanent location,'" Dan says as we discuss the store's spot. For the Becker's Spring Branch has been a perfect place. The couple lives only a mile away, and practically raised their children within the walls of the shop. "Frankly, this is a good place to acquire books," Dan reveals, remarking that he's been called to look at many a nearby collection.
"You're talking with one of the best book scouts in the world," Ann interrupts at one point, praising her husband's eye for purchasing on the used book market. We've had some incredibly interesting customers and I've sold some incredible books. There's probably not a book they can think of that we don't have or can't get a hold of," she continues.
Indeed, the store has an impressive amount of books tucked into the charming house. The tour that Dan gives us when we arrive takes more than seven minutes, and it's easy to see how a customer could get lost in the maze of hardcovers and paperbacks upon the dark brown shelves. Books have literally taken over all of the walls and caused the construction of a few more. For readers, it's a proverbial paradise. "I've had people say to me, 'I wish I could live here!'" says Ann.
Dan cites the Texana, history and mystery sections as particularly strong, which is fitting as both he and his wife have penned local history books. Ann's love for Houston history has led to a compilation spanning from 1860 to 1900, while Dan's history of LaPorte is due out in August. Both of them find a special joy in connecting with customers new and old; speaks Dan, "It's really interesting to learn everyone's acute passions. Everyone specifically comes in for something."
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One of Becker's unique advantages is due to an early grasp of the Internet market. The entire Becker's database can be searched from a web browser, allowing those customers on the hunt for something specific a quick response. Dan signed his store up with Alibris two years prior to Amazon's launch and has been selling books online since 1994. "While we may not have as many books as, say, a Barnes & Noble superstore, I'm sure I have more titles," he says. He cites online transactions as essential to the survival of a bookshop these days, but has mixed reviews about electronic readers like the Kindle or Nook.
"I don't think the electronic book lends itself to literature," he explains. "You're not going to see people reading Anna Karenina in an e-Book that didn't read it in paper first. I just think that electronic medium lends itself much better to short bursts of information." On top of that, he has concerns about the environmental impacts of the devices. "I don't know anybody that's got a two year old eReader. The dumps are going to be full of cadmium batteries. The idea that it's somehow greener than books, I dispute that," declares Becker.
Any book lover will testify that there's nothing quite like entering a store and browsing through the stacks, however, and Becker's is a fine example. "This store looks like a used bookstore would've looked about 200 years ago," Dan declares. "It's just a store where you can come in and be directed to your category, and you can shop in peace."
Becker's Books 7405 Westview Drive Houston, TX, 77055 713.957.8088