Dayton Upfront

Eclectic Bonnett’s Book Store in Dayton still thriving after 80 years

By Tim Walker

Writer Neil Gaiman once wrote that “A town isn’t a town without a bookstore.” If that’s true then Bonnett’s Book Store, located at 502 E. Fifth St., has had our hometown covered for almost 80 years now.

Right in the heart of Dayton’s Oregon Historic District, Bonnett’s has been in the same location since 1939. Started by Harold M. Bonnett and his wife, Ruth, at the tail end of the Great Depression, the store has been satisfying local readers and entertainment lovers for generations by buying, trading and selling new and gently used books, comics, movies and magazines. It remains one of the Miami Valley’s best-loved family businesses—and the vintage cartoon memorabilia that famously decorates the ceiling and every bit of free space must be seen to be believed.

“I don’t have the exact date,” says Kevin Bonnett, co-owner with his brother Greg. “So we don’t have an actual birthday for the store. But, when he worked here my grandfather would always say, ‘We’ve been here since 1939.’ So next year will mark 80 years that we’ve been in this location. I remember coming down here as a kid and helping my dad board up the glass windows—this area was a bit rougher in those days.”
Walter Bonnett ran the book store for many years before turning it over to his two sons, Kevin and Greg. Walter had taken it over from his father, Harold, who opened it back in the days when reading was king and cheap pulp magazines of weird tales, thrilling mysteries and action stories were available on every newsstand for a dime. Harold was very familiar with the pulp magazines of the time period for another reason—for years, he was a writer of crime and mystery stories, and his name and work appeared in many of those same pulps. The bookstore has on display a number of pulp covers featuring Bonnett’s byline and “Crusher O’Shea,” a chapbook featuring two of his short stories, was released by a local publisher in 2004.

These days, Kevin keeps the store going almost single-handedly—although his son Ian, fourth generation and possible future proprietor stops by to help out when he can. With Haroldand Walter both gone—Harold died in 2005 at the age of 92, and Walter, 74, followed in 2009—and brother Greg still recovering from a stroke he suffered in 2016, Kevin can now usually be found sitting behind the desk at the front of the store, processing and selling books and greeting every customer with a smile. He is determined to keep the family business alive, even in the face of a changing and increasingly digital marketplace.

“We don’t sell online,” he says. “When the internet boom happened around 2001 we saw the business start to change… magazine sales began to slump, for example. But we’re still here and we have customers coming from all over the country—just yesterday a guy from Orange County stopped by and picked up some rare magazines. People just love the store.”

With an unbeatable selection of vintage magazines, books, memorabilia and memories Bonnett’s Book Store is a local treasure that shouldn’t be missed.