Find Your Own Piece of History in the Stacks at Jackson Street Booksellers

Upon entering Jackson Street Booksellers, one is greeted by the familiar, ancient scent of books that entices avid readers and collectors alike.
As the holiday season draws near, attorneys and locals alike can enjoy giving the gift of a well-enjoyed First Edition or a unique addition to any collector’s inventory.
In fact, a history book about the Supreme Court renders a meaningful gift when given to a newly graduated law student.
After more than 30 years in the trade, owner and operator Carl Ashford has rarely come across a title he doesn’t know and can easily assist with finding rare and unusual books from across the country.
Having studied history and political science in college, Ashford said he “grew up in retail,” working at his family’s store, The Nebraska Clothing Company.
After high school at Brownell Talbot, Ashford left Omaha to attend Macalester College, a private liberal arts college in St. Paul, Minnesota. After college, he moved to San Francisco.
One day when he was still living in California, he wandered into a small bookstore. The owner hired him immediately and began his cultivation of literary knowledge. He remembered, “when I started in the Bay Area in San Francisco, it was such a fluid market … So, I got a good education in the first few years. Here, it’s a much slowertrade but we’ve established a reputation of paying people fairly.”
When Ashford and Amanda Lynch – who would become co-owner of the Omaha shop – left California, they spent months traveling across the country acquiring books, finally landing in Omaha. Ashford had traveled back and forth from California to Omaha often to visit his ailing mother. Her illness finally dictated a permanent move.
While here, they received an offer they couldn’t refuse. The Mercer family, who owned much of the real estate in the Old Market, had a bookstore on their wish list. In 1993, the Mercers offered the opportunity to Ashford and Lynch and they couldn’t say no.
They chose the location at 1119 Jackson Street in the Old Market for their own store that would soon expand to become the massive collection it is today.
“When we opened it was just 5,000 books,” Ashford said. “Now we’re at 100,000.”
They have so many books, they had to expand a few years ago into neighboring space.
While many customers bring in books to sell, others are sourced from a five-state area. Ashford frequently
visits estate sales, some by invitation, to appraise collections for estate attorneys or family members.
Using his vast experience in the trade, he helps families determine which volumes are worth keeping, selling or donating. He coordinates regularly with divorce attorneys as well, to help divide assets.
While this may seem like a tedious and unnecessary task, some clients have more than a thousand books to sort through with the possibility of finding an unexpected asset.
In an article published a few years ago, Lynch recounted a story when a customer offered them a collection of more than 10,000 western Americana books that had been preserved in his family since the 1848 California Gold Rush.
Besides offering consignment services for those larger collections, Jackson Street Booksellers has a range of paperbacks or hardbacks depending on an individual’s needs.
Ranging in a multitude of price points, the bookstore is bound to have the perfect read for anyone who saunters through its doors.
Although the store is ideal for any lover of literature, Ashford sees many attorneys come in for a multitude
of genres.
“Lawyers tend to be readers,” he said. “Some of our best customers are lawyers.”
Among his vast collection, Ashford has a number of rare philosophy books, which seem to appeal to those with a legal mind. He also offers modern first editions from authors such as Stephen King.
Some attorneys have specific tastes and may be collectors of books from Western Americana to mysteries to military history. When asked whether he had a favorite book, Ashford simply replied that it would be impossible to do because, “it’s like naming your favorite kid.”
Like many of his clientele, Ashford had a connection with the law through his late brother, Judge Mark Ashford. While he was an “average reader,” according to Carl, he did have an immense collection of celebrity autographs, which Carl now attributes to his love of collecting.
Carl’s other brother, Brad, is also a lawyer and has served as both a United States Representative and a Nebraska State Senator.
Ashford is no stranger to famous visitors. Many entertainers visit his store while they are in town for a performance. It’s a favorite stop for musicians, especially rock-and-rollers.
The store doesn’t stop at selling only within their walls. They have opened their collection to the world via their website, jacksonstree-booksellers.squarespace .com. While it’s probably more fun to browse the stacks in person, you can let your fingers do the shopping if you are looking for that special book.

Written for the Omaha Daily Record: