Sunday, September 16, 2012

Discovering the Montana Valley Book Store

If you're ever in western Montana and wish you could buy some books, I have the place for you. It's called the Montana Valley Book Store and it's in Alberton, not far west of Missoula on I-90.

White false-front wooden commercial building with lit plastic Coca Cola sign reading Montana Valley Book Store
It looks like the old-fashioned, small-town, Western grocery store that the building once was. The 1910 structure, listed on the National Register of Historical Places, was a meat market until the late 1950s. Its "double recessed entrance… large plate glass display windows, intact wood frame, and preserved false-front still retain the feel of Milwaukee Road-era commercial architecture."

Inside are 100,000 used books, brought to the vacant building in 1978 by Kenneth Wales. His daughter, Keren Ranney, still runs the store today, with the help of other family members, including several children (grandchildren?) I saw during my trip.

According to American Profile, six to eight million people drive by the town on the interstate each year, and the billboard Kenneth Wales placed there thirty-odd years ago keeps bringing them in. It sure got my attention. The Billings Gazette tells how the books came to be there (plus how many more there are in storage containers down near the Senior Center).

All I know is that just inside those windows to the right of the front door is the largest collection of 1960s–1970s juvenile fiction I've seen in one place. Because the shelves almost reach the high ceilings, scanning the books' spines required me to crane my head all the way back, but it was worth it.

Soon I had purchased about ten books for prices like $2 or $4 (half their original cover prices), but since we were in a hurry I hadn't looked through the rest of the store. As I was getting ready to leave, though, I stumbled across the hard cover science fiction. Oh, no. I don't have time for this!

But I checked for just a couple of authors whose books I've been pining after in hard cover, and found a first edition of John Brunner's Stand on Zanzibar. When I took it up to the counter, the young woman working there (who I assume is related to Keren Ranney?) made sure to point out to me that the book was kind of expensive — $12.00.

Yes, I said, I knew it was a collectible book. I had been looking for one for years. And I found it in a tiny railroad town in Montana.

I think I'll be stopping again on the return trip.


Ms Sparrow said...

Ah, the joy of sharing that wonderful moment when you find a treasure!

Jennifer Fredette said...

Greetings from The Montana Valley Book Store!

Thanks for the wonderful review of our store- its posts like this that keep us going each day.

The children you saw in the store are Keren's (Wales, no longer Ranney) grandchildren. It is Keren, her son, Ray, and myself, Jen (Ray's wife, mother to grandchildren) running this little gem. It truly is a family affair!

Please stop by again if you're coming this way.