DETROIT: John King Books, Mexicantown

12 Nov

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 For as long as I can remember I have loved books, from fairy tales and nursery rhymes to Dr Seuss and Nancy Drew, my childhood was filled with stories, and I have never lost my affection for them. Once I learned to read on my own, I never stopped. I love the way a book feels in my hands, the sound of opening a brand new hardcover to the first page, placing my favorite bookmark between the pages, you’ll never be able to convince me to give that up for some electronic device. Located in Detroit, west of downtown on Lafayette, in what used to be a glove factory, is an amazing store by the name of John King Books.

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The store is pretty easy to spot, it’s four stories tall, painted light blue, and sits near the Lodge Freeway. There is a small lot alongside for free parking. Enter through the front doors; here, inside the lobby, is where you will find an assortment of free books, yep, free, but bring your own bags. Enter the actual shop through a single glass door, you have to make a quick right turn and then you are in the thick of things. Take in a deep breath, appreciate the scent of thousands of books, the sheer volume is mesmerizing, where do you start? It really doesn’t matter, just enjoy the fact that you are here, and begin the process of wandering four floors of the written word.

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   John King is Michigan’s largest used and rare bookstore, directly behind the main building is a smaller one that houses the sizable collection of art books and a rare book room, this building is open by appointment only. People come from all over to peruse shelf after shelf, every subject and category is represented; you can take something home from Henry James, Betty Crocker, Shakespeare, and Michael Connelly.  Mixed in the store are framed prints, maps and postcards displayed on walls, glass showcases contain other types of vintage treasures. The floors are old and wooden they creak as you cross from section to section. It’s quiet in here, almost like a library; quite a contrast to when this was a factory filled with workers and the sound of industrial sewing machines. The space is mammoth, large cast iron radiators line the walls but are unable to keep up with the chill that emanates from the outdated windows. Dozens of fluorescent light fixtures are suspended from the ceiling, turn them on while you are browsing, but be sure to turn them off before you leave. Each floor has a map as you come through the door, or you can pick one up from the desk when you enter the store, it is a very handy tool. There are clerks scattered on the different floors to help you out if you are looking for something specific, I recommend wandering aimlessly on your first visit. 

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It’s easy to lose track of time, but my stomach reminded me it was time to eat. We made the short drive over to Mexicantown and stopped in at Evie’s Tamales. Sitting on Bagley as it has for over 25 years, Evie’s is, of course, famous for the tamales. We chose a table in the compact restaurant, glanced at the menu, then placed our order. We had to get the Tamales, the menu listed several varieties that had my mouth watering, but they only had the pork. Let me say, they were absolutely delicious! It is no wonder this is the place to get Tamales. The rest of the food was standard, good Mexicantown fare. They also do a big carry-out business here as you can buy Tamales by the dozen, fresh or frozen.

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                                                                                                                                       It was a nice day so we walked up and down Bagley and stopped in at a few of the shops. We both love the colors and style of Mexico, so bright and lively. We went into the local party supply store, Creaciones Lina, and found ourselves surrounded by pinata’s; many hang from the ceiling in different shapes and sizes to choose from. Mickey and Minnie Mouse pinata’s stand on the floor about 4 feet tall, they even had a Cinderella pinata that little girls would go crazy over. Custom pinata’s are what they are known for, whether it be a character, a logo, or a person, just bring them a photo and they will custom build it.  

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While visiting Mexicantown be sure and drop by Xochi’s Gift Shop. As soon as you step in you detect the rich smell of leather, Xochi’s has a really nice selection of cowboy boots. I am charmed by the tiny Mexican trinkets; miniature versions of food on minuscule plates, toy vases, minute guitars, cowboy hats and chili peppers. Having recently celebrated the Day Of The Dead the selection of skulls and skeletons was at it’s peak, my husband liked these the best; he found them both fascinating and beautiful. The store carries Wrangler Jeans, authentic apparel and handicrafts of Mexico, it’s all lovely. From traditional costumes and cowboy hats to the hand-painted ceramics and terracotta. Toward the back of the store you can find larger pieces and engaging paintings of Mexico. Everything here is vibrant in color and feels cheerful.

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There was a bit of a chill in the air, so it was a necessity we stop in at Cafe Con Leche for one of Jordi’s special Spanish Hot Chocolates. I’m telling you, you’ve got to try one! So heavenly, so rich and thick and chocolately. This is seriously good stuff, eat it with a spoon. 

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