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Experience This: Old Editions Book Shop & Cafe

The internet be darned. Books live.

Many of them live right here in Buffalo, at Old Editions Book Shop & Cafe. It is one of the nation's great bookstores.

It is amazing considering its size how it has floated around. Owner Ron Cozzi founded it in 1976 on Hertel Avenue, and then it went to Allentown, then to University Heights, and currently is in downtown Buffalo, at the corner of Huron and Oak streets.

We are talking 35,000 square feet of bookstore, cafe, and warehouse space. On the first floor are paperbacks and other inexpensive books, many under $5. Upstairs are out-of-print books both old and not very old, as well as the rare book department.

"My job is to save old books and take care of them," Cozzi said.

"I can't choose what I have," he added, and it is the kind of statement you ponder. It must explain the store, which is full of, well, everything.

Prices are all over the map. For $200 you can buy "Men of Buffalo," a 1902 tome with pictures of such city fathers as Ketchum, Bedford, and Otis, of Otis Elevator. A Parisian Bible from 1552 will run you thousands of dollars. But whatever your budget, you can find something, and have a thrilling time while you're at it.

(John Hickey/Buffalo News)

(John Hickey/Buffalo News)

The essentials

Where: 74 E. Huron St., at the corner of Oak Street. (Map below)

When: 10 a.m.-5:30 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday.

Cost: Books start at under $5.

Tip: A spring clearance sale starts March 1.

The experience

Parking is usually easy on Oak Street for $1 an hour. Put a lot of quarters in the meter because you'll want a lot of time.

Ron Cozzi holds signed photos of Elbert Green Hubbard and wife Alice Moore Hubbard. (John Hickey/Buffalo News)

"I'm blessed to have rare books, but I'm not forcing them on anyone," Cozzi said. "We're an all-encompassing bookstore. We don't want people to be intimidated."

Look up. Look down. Look all around.

The wall decor includes old prints of historic Erie and Niagara counties, original Currier and Ives prints of presidents, paintings and old maps. Notice the furniture, which includes ornate Victorian bookcases and other gorgeous antiques. Notice the bookends.

No one will hassle you. Take your time. Take your seat, if you like. One bench, brought in from Syracuse, is upholstered with a book design.

When and if you get around to shopping, start with your particular interest. Got a dog? There are literally 1,000 books on dogs, from the massive collection of a North Carolina man who was a judge for the Westminster Kennel Club.

Are you a history buff? What country? What century? What war? It's all here.

I sprang $8 for a watercolor book from the 1980s, plus $12 for a 1947 classic called "Calligraphy's Flowering, Decay And Restoration: With Hints For Its Wider Use Today." A 19th-century portrait of Red Jacket or a signed print by Marc Chagall will run you a lot more, of course. But what great gifts. Plus, well, that Chagall was $500, and who among us has not paid gas bills bigger than that?

Ask to see the rare book department. Elbert Hubbard wants you to come in and see his etchings. The etchings, which are signed, are only one bit of this mind-boggling place. And it's not all expensive. I saw gorgeous children's classics by Beatrix Potter and Kate Greenaway for $20.

"Everyone should discover the hobby of book collecting," Cozzi said. "You don't have to be wealthy. You can collect a particular author, or a particular topic.

"People are missing out on the joy of it. You go to a sporting event or something, and your money's gone. You come here and spend $100, and you have something. You can go home and read it, look at it. Books are precious."

(John Hickey/Buffalo News)

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