Secondhand Prose: a Look Inside the Book Exchange

by | Apr 4, 2023

Tucked into a shopping center in Ward’s Corner is one of Norfolk’s hidden gems: the Book Exchange. The literary and multimedia “thrift store,” so to speak, opened in its current location in 2004 but has since expanded to additional locations in Chesapeake and Virginia Beach, with an upcoming opening in Red Mill. “Thrift store” doesn’t really do this establishment justice, however. Every book on the shelves is in good condition and meticulously organized, the atmosphere is cozy, and the hand-painted artwork and comfortable seating invite you to stay a while and relax, setting it apart from what one might normally imagine for a thrift shopping experience.

Upon arrival, customers are greeted by enthusiastic staff who explain how the exchange works. You can bring in used books, DVDs, vinyl, cassettes, CDs, and more, and the Book Exchange will give you store credit equivalent to 25% of your item’s original retail value. If you bring something that they cannot exchange, perhaps because they already have multiple copies of it, you can still donate it to them. The exchange credit can be used to purchase anything in the store, including at any of their other locations, or you can shop without store credit and pay normally. All of their books are priced at 50% of their original retail value.

Regarding selection, there’s something for everyone. The Book Exchange carries all the standard fiction, mystery, sci-fi, young adult, romance, etc. Still, they also offer comics, graphic novels, philosophy, religion, popular science, history, classics, plays, cookbooks, DIY guides, children’s books, and more, as well as movies and music. According to Cassie Gardner, general manager of the Norfolk location, “The selection comes in specifically from trades from our customers, so you never know what you’re going to find in store; it’s a really fun treasure hunt!” You could walk out of the store with a book older than you are or the newest popular fiction that was read once and then traded in. Of course, the selection will vary every day, as well as by store, meaning the shopping experience is unique every time.

The Book Exchange’s business model revolves around sustainability and fostering a culture of reading in the community. “We’re giving books more chances to get into the hands of more readers,” Gardner explained. “We are also hoping that our processes are encouraging new readers or are getting people back into reading. Our employees are readers, too, so that really helps when recommending books to our customers, or gushing about the ones we’ve just finished!” In addition, they host charity sales for donated books they couldn’t previously sell, with proceeds benefiting local nonprofits. According to John Knight, owner and founder of the Book Exchange, they have donated over $100,000 over the years through their charity sales. They also have a program for students where an honor roll report card can be shown for free store credit, and they host local author signings free of charge to the authors.

Although the pandemic was difficult for the Book Exchange, as it was for many businesses, they have bounced back stronger than ever. “Everyone started to seemingly pick up reading again,” Gardner said, and “our stores got very busy. We are very thankful to our community and staff for that. They’re the reason we’re still here and expanding!”

To learn more about the Norfolk Book Exchange, check out, @bookexchangenorfolk on Instagram, or find them on Facebook for updates on new inventory and events. The Norfolk location is at 116 E Little Creek Rd, and is open from 10 am to 6 pm Monday through Saturday and noon to 6 pm on Sunday. One piece of advice: don’t rush your visit. You’ll want plenty of time to go treasure hunting for your perfect next read!

Kelsey Bonham

Berkley, NFK

I moved to Berkley in 2022 after graduating from Colgate University with my bachelor’s in Environmental Geography. I grew up on the Chesapeake Bay, living in DC, Annapolis, and southern Maryland, and have been on boats since before I could talk. I’m passionate about the environment, outdoor recreation, and science communication, and I currently work as an educator for the Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Center and boating journalist for SpinSheet magazine. When not writing or educating, you can find me sailing with my boyfriend, Nic, aboard our 31-foot antique sailboat or fixing something on it.

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