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May 24, 2012 | 12:00 a.m. CST
“BOOKS,” reads a weathered sign dangling in the rafters at The Market Place, a Columbia antique mall. The sign guides the path through antique knick-knacks to 7-foot-tall shelves of used books, which fill the tiny area with a musty scent. Ken and Linda Green, owners of Acorn Books, work together to tape up posters on the shelves.
“This one was taken about 22 years ago,” Linda says about a picture depicting her husband, Ken, on the stairs of their former Ninth Street location neighboring the Missouri Theatre.
The Greens, who have been married for 40 years, commemorated the business’ 25th anniversary this month. The posted pictures and articles highlight Acorn Books’ history as a used-book utopia, which offers book lovers in Columbia more than 45 literary categories. The business once had four locations around town but now operates as a self-service section. This allows the Greens to be away from the store and conduct most of the bookselling online. Acorn Books has not seen any decrease in sales since downsizing to one location, the Greens say.
For Ken, the business is about discovering new books at the most affordable prices. He sits by the stuffed Sci-Fi section, which Linda attempts to organize in a Tetris-like fashion. She navigates the paperbacks with dexterous precision while adding details to her husband’s anecdotes. The couple bounces off one another in conversation, sometimes answering on the other’s behalf.
“We like nonfiction books,” Linda says. Ken says he collects books on Western Americana but that they aren’t just for him. “[Linda] likes to read about the old-time cowgirls — women rodeo stars,” he says.
Despite their preferences, the Greens consider readers’ diverse interests when purchasing books. The business has been shaped by the principle that reading is about enlightening ideas. Whether a reader is looking for an ethnic cookbook or a novel on Missouri history, Acorn Books can help. The Greens sometimes get personal queries to find specific books, and they can usually fulfill them. If not, they often refer locals to another used bookstore in town.
“A book can really make a difference,” Ken says, noting a trip the Greens took after becoming inspired by a journal written by Susan Magoffin while traveling on the Santa Fe Trail.
Hoping to inspire similar journeys in others, the Greens keep their doors open. “Who knows,” Ken says, “we could be right here for another 25 years.”