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Sidwell Friends School's Student Newspaper Since 1974

Horizon

Sidwell Friends School's Student Newspaper Since 1974

Horizon

Spotlight on Small Businesses: Used Rare Bookstore Second Story Books

Second+Story+Books+is+the+oldest+rare+bookstore+in+Washington.+Photo%3A+Lee+Gillies+%E2%80%9924.
Second Story Books is the oldest rare bookstore in Washington. Photo: Lee Gillies ’24.

Second Story Books opened in 1974 as a small bookstore tucked away on the second floor of a building in downtown Washington. The bookstore has since become one of the largest used and rare bookstores in the world, employing over 40 people and consisting of several locations in Washington stocking over 500,000 books. 

Allan Stypeck, the owner and president of Second Story Books, has maintained the store’s success and continuous operation under the same ownership for the last 50 years, in spite of the declining market for first-edition print books in the age of digital versions. 

“As older, print-loving generations die off, they are leaving behind millions of books that their descendants do not want,” Stypeck said in an interview with The Washington Post. 

“Before the Internet, booksellers ruled,” he added. “You did your research, and if you found that a book had been selling for $115,000, and you had only seen four of them in your career, then that’s what it was worth.” Now that digitized records easily track numbers of books being bought and sold as first editions, thousands of copies are being discovered, dramatically dropping the market value of those books.

According to The Washington Post, Stypeck is known for his eccentricities. Notably, he owned a six-foot python when he first opened the store, and currently possesses a technical guide for the Apollo 11 mission signed by all three astronauts — an item he reportedly received directly from them.

According to an interview with Georgetown CCT Video Producers, Stypeck attended the American University School of International Service with the intent of going into the intelligence branch of the government. “I fell in love with bookselling in my early 20s,” he said, “and made a transition from that world… to the bookstores.” While Stypeck works as a private consultant for numerous government figures, he mainly sticks to running his bookstores.

USA Today listed Second Story Books among their top ten used and rare bookstores in the country. Among other things, the bookstore is the inspiration and subject of a lengthy poem written by former U.S. defense minister William Cohen during his time as a congressman in the 1970s. 

In Nov. 2023, Second Story Books introduced an online webpage that allows customers to search books by collection. In an interview with Fine Books Magazine, Stypeck explained the purpose of grouping books by collection rather than subject matter: “The collector [of the books] has often become an expert in their areas of interest, so they have found works that are important to particular subjects. It makes complete sense to keep these books together.”

According to their website, Second Story Books “works with government and private institutions, colleges, and universities, helping them build their special collections through donation or purchase.”

Second Story Books contains a variety of different collections, ranging from comics and graphic novels published in the late 1980s to early 2010s to first edition abolitionism and slavery pamphlets from the 1850s. Their comics collection includes treasures such as a first-edition Batman comic from 1989, selling for $90, and several collections of first edition Walt Disney comics about Donald Duck selling for around $160 each.

Second Story Books is open from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Sunday.

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About the Contributors
Aigerim Bibol '25
Aigerim Bibol '25, Culture Editor
Aigerim Bibol is currently a Culture Editor for Horizon. Prior to this, she worked as a Staff Writer for the newspaper.
Elle Ludwin '25
Elle Ludwin '25, Culture Editor
Elle Ludwin is currently a Culture Editor for Horizon. Prior to this, they worked as a Staff Writer for the newspaper.
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