Encyclopedia Of Detroit

John King Books

John King Books, or John K. King Used and Rare Books, is an independent bookseller in Detroit, Michigan that has an estimated one million books in its stock, including many rare titles. It is reputedly one of the major bookstores in the world. 

King always had an interest in buying and selling used books and antiques, and with the support of his high school guidance counselor, Elsie Freitag, he turned his hobby into a career, in the beginning selling books out of the trunk of his car. His first bookstore was established in 1971 in Dearborn. Later that year he moved his business to a rented location in the Michigan Theatre Building in downtown Detroit. 

Outgrowing that space in 1983 King decided to purchase a building of his own and bought the abandoned Advance Glove Factory on West Lafayette Street, a four-story building with basement, plenty of room to store and shelf the store’s books. The architect of the building was William Stratton, husband to Pewabic Pottery’s Mary Chase Stratton. Soon after, he purchased the adjacent old Otis Elevator building, in which the collection’s rare and notable books are located and seen by appointment only.

The store gets many visitors each day looking for used titles, and to help them browse the collection they are given maps as they enter. It is the only bookstore in the country where staff communicate with walkie talkies. King also has two smaller stores, one near Wayne State University in Detroit’s Cultural Center, and one in Ferndale, Michigan.