Renaissance Books

Coordinates: 42°56′52″N 87°54′08″W / 42.9478°N 87.9023°W / 42.9478; -87.9023
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Renaissance Books old downtown store

Renaissance Books is a large independent bookstore originally located in downtown Milwaukee, Wisconsin, specializing in used books. Founded in the 1950s by George John and Erwin Just, it is now owned by Robert John, George's younger brother.[1] 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')".[2][3] The local Milwaukee Journal Sentinel described it as, "bursting at the seams with used books... easy to get lost among the mazelike shelves."[4]

Airport branch[edit]

Renaissance Books location in Milwaukee Mitchell International Airport; Milwaukee, WI.

Renaissance operates a branch at Milwaukee's Milwaukee Mitchell International Airport, which opened in 1979.[1] With strong aviation, history, cooking and genre fiction sections, plus rare books,[5] it is believed to have been the world's first used book store in an airport.[6] It holds about 60,000 volumes; in a recent The 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."[7]

"Eyesore" controversy[edit]

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.[8] In 2011, the city of Milwaukee closed down the store because of structural concerns about the building.[9]

In November 2015, the city ordered John to demolish the downtown building[10] because of unsafe structural conditions dating back to the early 20th century.[11]

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).[12]

Other branches after downtown closure[edit]

In November 2012, it was reported that Renaissance Books would open a branch downtown at the nearby The Shops of Grand Avenue retail mall.[9][13] In October 2018, it was reported that the Grand Avenue branch was closing down and moving to Southridge Mall on the south side of Milwaukee County.[14] The new store opened on Black Friday of 2018 under the management of "Ink" Lowrey, a second-generation Renaissance employee.[15]


  1. ^ a b "Shabby Image Threatens to Cost Airport Bookstore Its Lease", The Wall Street Journal, July 9, 1980
  2. ^ Casey, Maura J. "36 Hours in Milwaukee: 10 a.m. 4) BIBLIOPHILE’S DELIGHT" The New York Times October 5, 2008
  3. ^ "Used bookstores in Milwaukee",, July 3, 2000
  4. ^ Frank, Nicholas. "Downtown Shops Fulfill Wish List Dream" Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Nov. 9, 2000: Holiday Lights Festival Supplement, pages 2, 6
  5. ^ "The Bookstore Arrives at Airports", Publishers Weekly, Sept. 12, 2005
  6. ^ "The Challenge of Airport Bookselling", Publishers Weekly, July 13, 1984
  7. ^ Luongo, Michael T. "Holiday Shopping on the Fly" The New York Times Business Day section, December 11, 2012
  8. ^ Romell, Rick. "City, businesses bemoan bookstore eyesore" Milwaukee Journal Sentinel June 16, 2011
  9. ^ a b Vogel Davis, Stacy. [1] "Renaissance Book Shop to open at Grand Avenue" Milwaukee Business Journal November 9, 2012
  10. ^ Spicuzza, Mary. "City moves to demolish downtown Renaissance Book Shop building". Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, November 23, 2015.
  11. ^ Horne, Michael. "Plenty of Horne: City Goes Medieval on Renaissance" November 15, 2015.
  12. ^ Daykin, Tom. "Apartment developer buys former Renaissance Book Shop" Milwaukee Journal Sentinel May 11, 2016.
  13. ^ Daykin, Tom. "Jake's Deli, Renaissance Books opening at Grand Avenue" Milwaukee Journal Sentinel November 9, 2012
  14. ^ Rommell, Rick. "Renaissance book shop moves from Grand Avenue to Southridge" Milwaukee Journal Sentinel November 5, 2018
  15. ^ Schultz, Blaine. "Renaissance Books Opens at Southridge: Storied Milwaukee bookseller trades Grand Avenue for Southridge Mall" Shepherd Express December 11, 2018

42°56′52″N 87°54′08″W / 42.9478°N 87.9023°W / 42.9478; -87.9023

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