Hidden Gems of Tuscaloosa: The Book Rack

The Book Rack has been family-oriented and owned for close to 42 years. CW / Laura Johnson

Nestled along 14th Street is one of Tuscaloosa’s best kept secrets. This particular gem holds thousands and thousands of memories, thoughts and words transcribed over hundreds of years on thousands of novels. Though tucked into a quaint side-shop, The Book Rack is unlike any independently owned book store you’ve ever seen.

The Book Rack has been family-oriented and owned for close to 42 years. Upon entering Monday through Friday 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., the store owners and operators welcome you while you’re simultaneously engulfed by close to 25,000 timeless novels stacked neatly on antique orange shelves.

“We hand-cut, sawed and painted these shelves in my mother’s backyard,” said Ann McGee, one of the store founders and owners who was literally married inside of the store. “Our family had a beagle at the time, and I think his paw-prints are still stamped on some of the shelves.”

The books are up to both buy and trade. Visitors are welcome to sort through the many different genres and swap out some of their own books for any books they may choose to purchase.

The store originally began with a bundle of 5,000 books collected by the brains behind the business, Virginia Darnell. Darnell has now passed, but McGee and others keep The Book Rack in good business through their care and connection to the community.

“All of us here, we love to read, and Tuscaloosa is our home,” McGee said. “The whole idea started when we decided we wanted a family-oriented, used book trading store where people could just come in and feel at home.”

McGee knows just about every shopper by name, and if not, she doesn’t hesitate to introduce herself and strike up a conversation. Many of the individuals who own and operate The Book Rack are just alike.

“There was a sign on the door that said ‘help needed’ and I was always in here reading anyways,” said Charlotte Stanford, a retired English teacher who has worked at The Book Rack for close to three years. “The Book Rack is home for a lot of people.”

The store provides much more than just books. Individuals like McGee and Stanford work to not only share their love of books with the locals that visit, but also their love of people and life in general. The owners and operators make themselves available to every visitor, and strive to embody a sense of family and genuine care no matter who you are or where you come from.

“They are so kind in here,” said Gail Clary, a frequent shopper and friend of the owners and operators. “It’s great not having to pay $25 for a book, don’t get me wrong, but they have everything you need here. This environment really embodies the whole idea of reading, how it just takes you away somewhere.”

The Book Rack offers a sense of comfort that is often hard to find within businesses. Through friendly conversation, novels to fit almost any individual and a genuine passion for people, this locally owned gem welcomes everyone into an imaginative jungle of books and kindheartedness alike.

When McGee isn’t reading novels from some of her favorite authors like Anne George or Kathy Reichs, she brings her dog Daisy along to meet the shoppers at The Book Rack.

Whether you’re looking to trade books, sell books, read books, or even just chit-chat and eat lunch, the owners and operators of The Book Rack encourage you to come in and enjoy the comfort of the store they’ve made home.

The Book Rack will offer a special book sale Feb. 10 and 11, from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., with a selection of paperback books 75 percent off the publisher’s price.

“Whether you’re waiting in the doctor’s office, sitting in your car as the train passes the tracks or a few minutes early for a meeting, as long as you’ve got a book, you’re not going to be bored,” McGee said.

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