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Adams Walls of Books stands out in a time of corporate booksellers

March 31, 2018


One of Columbia’s longest-running businesses is also among its least lucrative.


In the sign plastered above its display window, Adams Walls of Books is missing a critical “O,” the first one of “Books.” The front door is battered, its paint flaking off and its overall health lacking. Business hours are exclusively 1-4 p.m. on Saturdays. Herein lies the character of owner Nancy Duncan’s bookstore — a quirky reader’s haven whose dilapidated physical structure belies a successful family-owned business.


The history

The two passageways are stocked primarily with classic works and authors. Noam Chomsky stares down Ayn Rand from the opposite bookshelf. Charles Bukowski’s boozy words are juxtaposed with the more proper 19th- and 18th-century British literature a row over. Doris Lessing and Ursula Le Guin sit side by side. Shakespeare looms as Saul Bellow, Zora Neale Hurston, Graham Greene and Jack Kerouac display their distinction.


It’s hard to believe this immense amassment began in earnest with a personal collection of natural history and ornithology texts belonging to Duncan’s father, the store’s previous owner.


Ira Adams was the store’s original owner in the 1920s. During his tenure, it was known as Adams Jewelry. It has been passed down for generations, from her grandfather, Ira Adams, to her father, Ike Adams, to her.


Under Ike Adams, whose time at the helm lasted 57 years, the shop was known as Adams Books and Hobbies and later Adams Walls of Books. Part of its merchandise included firearms. Duncan, who assumed ownership in 2002, kept the name Adams Walls of Books.


The guns, stamps, jewelry and knick-knacks are gone. The words remain.


To read the rest of this story, click here.

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