Last Exit Books is a place for music and book lovers alike

Jason Merlene, owner of Last Exit Books, stocks records during a slow shift at Last Exit Books on Tuesday, Dec. 2, 2014. Last Exit Books is located on E. Main Street in Downtown Kent.

Nathan Havenner

Walking into Last Exit Books is like stepping back in time to a period before the internet, music downloads and e-books made the neighborhood bookstore a thing of the past.  

The walls are lined with new and used books, ranging from classic literature, poetry and history to westerns, automotive and fiction. A large record bin with hundreds of vinyl albums dominates the center of the room. 

Handwritten signs asking visitors not to steal out of respect to their local bookstore are scattered throughout the room. 

It is a place where the owner calls you by name; a place you can spend hours browsing through books about art, literature and history. You can buy comic books or vinyl records, CDs and cassette tapes. Last Exit books gives its customers a way to connect to their book or music purchase in a way buying online simply cannot.

Owner Jason Merlene decided to open Last Exit Books in 2004 after making a trip to downtown Kent looking for a bookstore. Merlene said he has always had an interest in music and literature, and had thought about opening a bookstore someday. One day he said he noticed an available rental space on East Main Street.

“It just struck me,” Merlene said. “I called that day, signed the lease that day and I had to put a bookstore together.”

Using part of his personal collection of books to supply the store with inventory, he opened in that July.

While today you can find a wide assortment of music, Merlene said providing a music selection was not part of his original vision. His initial intentions were to create a theme of art and literature. 

“Early on, I had some records and some CD’s,” Merlene said. “I had all that from the beginning but obviously overtime have expanded greatly, especially the vinyl.”

The vinyl records have become a fixture at Last Exit Books. Customers can take their time flipping through alphabetized albums organized by genre. 

“I see young people buying Simon and Garfunkel, and all this older music and I see older people buying the new vinyl that’s being issued,” Merlene said. “It’s interesting.”

At Last Exit books, Merlene makes room for many different genres of music, not just the most popular. He has an extensive area dedicated to jazz and classical, as well as space devoted to classic country music.

“I can’t put as much money towards them as I do some other things, but I am actually going to be expanding the country records,” Merlene said. “I have found that, just like in any other genre, there is some solid great stuff.”

Merlene said that although it is a slimmer market, customers looking for classical and country music are looking for quality and are willing to pay for it when they find it.

“It is great to have because I get those hardcore country music listening people in and they buy records,” Merlene said.

Merlene said his newest project is expanding Last Exit Books and creating the Last Exit Book coffee shop and café. He has leased the neighboring space and decided to knock out a wall, allowing the store to have more room for records and also a place for people to have coffee and read. The expansion and café should be ready before students leave for break.

Anthony Dodds, an avid customer at the store, said he originally came into Last Exit Books to ask Merlene about an antique book he had found in his basement. He has since returned to the store a handful of times to look for books for his collection.

“You can’t help but to browse,” Dodds said.

Dodds said he always finds something to add to his collection when he stops by the store. 

“Right now I’m going back to graphic novels,” Dodds said. “They are easier on my old eyes.”

Last Exit Books provides book and music lovers with a friendly place to shop and enjoy everything a local bookstore has to offer. The store is open every day except Wednesday and is located at 124 East Main St.

Contact Nathan Havenner at [email protected].