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With sales in six figures each year, secondhand books aren't just a sideline anymore in Salt Lake and Utah counties.

There are about 25 used-book stores in both counties making a total annual profit of $1 million.The largest, Sam Weller Books, Salt Lake City, and Pioneer Book, Provo, earn the greatest revenue amounts.

The used-book business is not only financially rewarding but one of the most satisfying to those involved in it.

Sam Weller Books, in business since 1929, might be Utah's used-book mecca. The store is famous for offering everything from rare first editions bound in Moroccan leather to yellowing bargain-priced paperbacks.

In used-book stores a collector can find a first-edition copy of the Book of Mormon and fiction novels by Lloyd Douglas, Howard Driggs, Louis L'Amour and Gene Stratton Porter published in the 1920s. Some first editions are worth as much as $5,000.

"This is a really exciting business," said Joan Nay, used-book manager at Sam Weller Books. "We have customers who have been on waiting lists for years who get so excited when we find their texts for them. It's really rewarding.

"When you get into the used-book market, rare texts become collectors' items. When the book goes out of print, the only way to get it is through these kinds of stores."

Richard Horsley, owner of Pioneer Books, has about 90,000 used volumes for sale at his store, the whole of which has been dedicated to the sale of used books. His most precious and expensive text is a first edition of the Book of Mormon, which he has priced at $3,500.

"I don't keep it here. I keep it locked up," he said.

"I love books," said Horsley, who has been in the business for 10 years. "I'm a bookaholic. I take a different book home with me every night and try to learn from it. I try to review everything I sell."

Customers come from all walks of life. Among them are serious collectors of LDS works trying to complete their libraries, students, teachers, senior citizens, housewives and businesspeople. According to store employees, most customers are bookworms.

On any given day, a ruffling of pages is the only sound heard in the basement and on the balcony at Sam Weller Books, whose owner has dedicated more than 6,000 square feet for used volumes. Used books once accounted for 90 percent of sales at the store. Today, new books account for 75 percent.

Merchandise at Sam Weller Books is usually organized by subject or the author's last name, with the exception of biographies, which are filed under last name.

The major difference between a regular bookstore and a used-book store is that the regular bookstores can mark up the price of their merchandise by as much as 40 percent, whereas used-book stores often charge customers little more than they paid for a volume.

Because profit is low, those who are in the business are there because they love books.

Used-book stores purchase their merchandise from libraries, estate sales and regular customers. They sell collectors' reference texts, specialized books, best sellers, paper backs, religious, technical, travel guides, maps, children's books, Westerns, etc.

It's an obscure but vibrant business where only those who take the time to carefully browse through dozens of aisles find great treasures.

Richard Frost, of Frost's Books, Foothill Village, said his store, which sells mostly new books, is beginning to offer its clientele obsolete editions because there's a greater demand for them. "There's a market for these kinds of texts. They go quite quickly," Frost said.

Nay said at Sam Weller Books there are more than 500,000 used books available to the public. She said some texts were published in the 1700s.

Nyal Anderson, owner of Beehive Collectors Gallery, said the used-book market is good because the cost of new books has increased so much during the past five years.

Anderson, who has been in the used-book business for 35 years, said the majority of his books are collectors' items that appeal to serious customers. "Used books have always been my specialty," Anderson said.

Jani Daley, a salesperson at the Book Attic, said, "We think the business is good because people like to read everywhere. Prices are reasonable. Normally these books would be twice as much."

Most used-book stores have buy-and-sell policies that allow customers to sell or trade their texts at marked prices. Customers at certain stores receive discount rates for every book they purchase.

"There are few of us in the valley, so the business is good, and people always like a bargain," Daley said. "Some of these books are so rare, customers can't even get them by writing to the publisher."