Renaissance Books is a large independent bookstore originally located in downtown Milwaukee, Wisconsin, specializing in used books. Founded in the early 1960s by George John and Erwin Just, it is now owned by Robert John, George's younger brother. The store's former main building (a former furniture warehouse) was five stories high (plus the two-story building next door and another down the block) housing somewhere from 350,000 to 600,000 volumes. The New York Times described it as "like a book collector’s attic, with boxes of used books lining the floor of this century-old former furniture store. But it’s more organized than it looks, with about a half-million books parceled among dozens of categories ('animal husbandry' 'theater practices and problems')". The local Milwaukee Journal Sentinel described it as, "bursting at the seams with used books... easy to get lost among the mazelike shelves."
Renaissance also operates a branch at Milwaukee's General Mitchell International Airport, which opened in 1979. With strong aviation, history, cooking and genre fiction sections, plus rare books, it is believed to have been the world's first used book store in an airport. It holds about 60,000 volumes; in a recent New York Times article, it was praised for its "quirkiness", with one customer saying, "They are totally not what people think of with an airport bookstore. They are kind of funky and it is a very Milwaukee thing."
In June 2011 the Journal Sentinel ran an article in its Business section headlined "City, businesses bemoan bookstore eyesore" which described the downtown location as "the eyesore on an otherwise attractive block.... part bookstore, part dustbin" and quoted nearby business owners as condemning the property as a blight on their neighborhood. The store was contrasted to the airport location, which it conceded "is one of the terminal's most popular features. The place is clean, well-lighted and attractive". The article contained speculation that owner John's motivations ranged from active perversity to "gaming the system" to a simple inability to perceive that clutter offends other people. In 2011, the city of Milwaukee closed down the store because of structural concerns about the building. In November of 2012, it was announced that Renaissance Books would open a branch downtown at the nearby The Shops of Grand Avenue retail mall.
In May 2016, it was reported that the property had been sold to Milwaukee real estate developer Tim Gokhman. Gokhman said he would have an engineering study done to determine if the building could be saved. It was unclear what happened to the books which had been housed in the shuttered building(s).
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- Daykin, Tom. "Apartment developer buys former Renaissance Book Shop" Milwaukee Journal Sentinel May 11, 2016.