HARLINGEN — Ben and his brother Andrew De Alba were looking for Harry Potter books.
More specifically, the audio book of the first novel, “The Sorcerer’s Stone.”
They were looking to get the title at a bargain so they tried their luck at Books N Things of Harlingen, where used books are half off the publisher’s original price.
The brothers sifted their finger tips across the titles on the shelves of the children’s section to find what they were looking for.
They said they were there for some books to read on their family summer road trip across Texas to El Paso.
“It’s a 12-hour drive,” Ben said. “I’ve never been to this bookstore before, but I found some good books to read on the road.”
The bookstore marks it 40th year in business this year.
And it’s still thriving, despite competition from online booksellers like Amazon and e-book tablets like Kindle.
It first opened for business in 1977 with less than 2,000 books for sale.
Today, the store has more than 100,000 book titles for sale and for trade in the store and online combined.
The original store owner was Harlingen resident Jesse Watson, who opened the store on 77 Sunshine Strip before moving it to its current location on First Street.
Today, the store shelves books wall-to-wall and is sectioned off by genre, from the classics, children’s, western, sports, horror, history, science fiction, nonfiction, romance and more.
Books N Things opened several years before Waldenbooks opened at Valle Vista Mall and is still here long after that chain store closed.
Store owner Patricia Puckett says one reason Books N Things can compete against Amazon and the other websites is because her store has a “stronger selection.”
“We have a lot of the older selections that you can’t find on the websites nowadays,” she said.
“Amazon and those kinds of places, basically they’re what’s new, what’s now, not the old, retired authors or authors that were back in the 40s and 50s. We have so many of the older books by older authors that are still in good condition.”
Another reason is that her store also trades books.
“They come in, they can bring the ones they have read that are in good condition and they get credit so they can take out more books they want to read that they have not been able to purchase somewhere else.”
Store manager Cathy Gomez said she’s more concerned about competition from e-readers like Kindle and Nook than Amazon.
“But more and more people are coming back to wanting to hold a book in their hands rather than reading a little computer screen,” said Gomez, who has worked at the bookstore for more than 20 years.
“I have one lady who says she just loves the smell of books.”
Gomez says she has several customers whose kids bought them Kindles, but they don’t use them.
“One lady said hers is still in the box and the kids bought it four or five years ago,” she said.
Gomez says used bookstores are making a comeback.
“I have heard from some Winter Texans that their used bookstores up north that had closed are opening back up because people are getting disillusioned with the Kindle and the Nook,” she said.
The store also is getting more and more customers from other cities, such as Brownsville, Mercedes, Weslaco, even Edinburg and McAllen.
Gomez said one customer recently came into the store and bought all the Stephen King novels on the shelf.
“This is a great place,” said John Dolton, 83. “If you buy several books you get a free one.”
The avid book reader and longtime customer said he enjoys reading the crime and detective novels that he buys from the store.
“You never know what you’re going to find in here,” Dolton said.
On Wednesday, Dolton left the store with more than 10 books.
Puckett bought the bookstore in 2004 from the original owner.
“When I took over the bookstore, only the front room of the building was being used to sell books,” Puckett said.
She later converted the whole building into a bookstore to offer more books for sale and trade at Harlingen’s only full-service used bookstore.
“We have a little bit of everything,” Puckett said. “We have informational books, recipes, and the majority of the books are novels.”
Puckett, who has been an avid reader since she was a child, agrees many people would rather have a real book in their hands.
“People who read books, they get attached to certain books and they go back and read them over and over again, even though it’s been years since they first read them,” she said.
“Readers are a different breed than a lot of people.”
Books N Things of Harlingen is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday. It is located at 523 North First Street.