Driving down 3001 Vineyard Lane in Baltimore, you might overlook the quaint pink and blue bookstore tucked away among a cluster of stores and colorful row houses. On stepping into this unassuming building, however, you’ll encounter a scene straight out of a bibliomaniac’s wildest dreams: a meandering maze of soaring shelves stacked to the brim with endless brightly-colored books, that are all free. Though it seems too good to be true, there is a catch. This delightful, free take-a-book shop only opens once a month.
The Book Thing of Baltimore is a colorful, volunteer-run, used bookstore where customers are prohibited from spending a single cent for anything on the shelves. The store was established in September 1999 by Russel Wattenberg, a former bartender. Russel discovered that local teachers were in desperate need of reading materials for their students, and hence, The Book Thing began. Their mission is to allocate unwanted books into the hands of those who want them, in an accessible manner. The store is completely operated by a staff of volunteers and features a boundless collection of books and magazines which are restocked through in-person or mail donations.
The Book Thing is open and available to the public one day per month, typically during the second full weekend of the month on either a Saturday or Sunday. The last giveaway event was Sunday, February 13th during which patrons collected a total of 9,584 books and 457 non-books, and also donated 5,431 books and 1,441 non-books! If you plan on attending one of The Book Thing’s giveaway events, be sure to arrive with a mask and a means of carrying the books you collect. Spare boxes and bags are also provided for patrons to store their books in.
Those who visit The Book Thing are bound to come away with a satisfied smile and something that suits their taste. Haania Ahmed, a junior at Reservoir High School, attended the February giveaway and said, “I would absolutely recommend The Book Thing of Baltimore to others passionate and even those not passionate about books because I feel as if there’s something for everyone.” She enjoyed sorting through the various genres that provided something for each patron, from young adult novels to history books and cookbooks. To sum up her visit, she said, “It was a really enjoyable experience and even the wait line wasn’t very long nor did it feel like I was being rushed due to the time limit. Overall, it was really fun and I would love to go again.”
The Book Thing isn’t the only hidden treasure buried deep within the bustle and buzz of Baltimore. Located 3 minutes away from the bookstore on 227 W 29th Street is The Papermoon Diner, an eclectic, funky, knickknack-filled diner serving delicious burgers, traditional breakfast, and vegetarian food.
If the whimsical mannequins twinkling with all sorts of trinkets outside the diner aren’t enough to stupefy you, the caged dolls, giant Pez collection, and multitude of other bedecked mannequins inside are sure to do the job. The Papermoon Diner was established by restaurateur Un Kim in 1994, who took over the commonplace diner and its ordinary decor. As the years progressed, however, Kim–alongside her friend David Briskie, a designer–revamped the eatery into a shrine for all sorts of peculiar paraphernalia.
The most prominent of these miscellaneous articles are the mannequins. They lean against the vibrant walls, striking spirited poses with their glistening plastic hips; they warp under the weight of hordes of plastic cars, dolls, mini-figures, and other toys that bejewel their bodies; and their beckoning, neon plastic limbs protrude from corners of the diner. Aside from these psychedelic figures, vintage planes and cars are affixed to the ceiling, the detached heads of dolls fill up a display case, a framed pop art picture of First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy engages the eye, and diners find themselves immersed in a kaleidoscopic sea of curiosities circling, climbing, and crawling all around them.
Kim and Briskie have spent years combing through yard sales, flea markets, second-hand shops, and auctions to collect bits and pieces for the ‘living’ art in the diner. Customers and other diners have also contributed to the search, including the CEO of a Pez dispenser manufacturer, who gifted the diner his substantial collection of Pez dispensers. These rows upon rows of manifold dispensers are lined up behind a glass display case which greets customers who first step into the diner.
Aside from the diner’s distinct decor, their menu offers mouth-watering, delectable dishes that can’t be overlooked. Papermoon serves milkshakes, breakfast, omelets, salads, quesadillas, fresh wraps, and desserts, along with several vegetarian options.
While, outwardly, the modest state of Maryland doesn’t seem to offer much, by diving deep into its history you’ll discover a number of distinctive locations worth visiting. So, the next time you’re driving down the buzzing streets of Baltimore, be sure to grab a boatload of free books from The Book Thing and polish off a plate of Grilled Pesto Chicken Breast from The Papermoon Diner. You won’t regret it.