Bookstore Shelving

Cheap Shelving

Cheap shelving for your bookshop can be one of the more difficult decisions for a new shop owner to make. The look and feel of his shop will obviously be affected quite a bit as will his budget. Our bookstore has been open for three and a half years now, long enough to see how our cheap shelving choice has stood up. For the reasons mention above we decided to skip custom bookstore shelving and go with Ikea. The look of their black-brown veneer shelving has been commented on by a majority of our visitors all in the positive.

We also need to consider the practicality of building or having somebody build your shelves. All the cutting, measuring (twice of course!) and especially staining and finishing is quite time consuming. If you are paying a contractor to do this it will get expensive fast.You will also most likely be forced to keep the shelves where they are. What I really like about the Ikea shelves is that not only were they a breeze to construct, taking about ten minutes per unit, but if you ever decide to modify the layout of the shop you can easily move the shelves around. We have actually done this three times already.

Calculating the cost of your bookstore shelving is simple enough, just calculate the wall space, or floor space that you need to cover, jump onto the Ikea web site to see the sizes they offer and do some simple math. You will quickly see what your costs will be, pretty cheap. Now find a contractor and ask for an estimate. Keep in mind the overruns in cost (often over 25%), add in the dust/noise/inconvenience/smell of varnish and time chewed up and you should have a fairly clear view of which choice to make.

bookstore shelving

One other quick word about color choice if you decide to go with the Ikea shelves. We chose the black-brown option and are quite happy with it. You would think that a darker color may not be the best choice for hiding dust but it works fine. The shelves are easy to maintain and the dust that does accumulate does not really show.

Another bonus with this cheap shelving system is that all but the middle shelf are replaceable. If you have some shelves that become bowed over time it’s very easy to buy a replacement shelf. This has not happened to us yet.

In addition to the beautiful Billy bookcases we added a few slatwall panels to display some of the nicer book covers.

..and here’s a funny article on how bookshops shelve their books.


23 thoughts on “Bookstore Shelving”

  1. Bruce:
    I’m opening a B & M shop in October in Tacoma, WA. Approximately 1200 sq feet. I have to say, I had never thought about this option until reading your post, but find it to be highly attractive, as I won’t have to play carpenter, sander, stainer etc. Can you give me a rough estimate of the size of your store, how high your shelves go and what the approx cost was? Also, I’d love to see any photos of the the shelves in your store if you could email me a few.

    Tim Lohraff
    Seattle, WA

  2. Why did you choose the IKEA over a traditional fixture vendor such as Franklin Fixtures ? I am opening a new store on South Padre Island, TX and am currently in the middle of construction of the building which will combine my residence and the shop. I believe my builder may be able to build-in the floor to ceiling shelves located against the walls, but I am looking for freestanding units. It will be nice to have another option to consider. So many choices need to be made and at time it seems overwhelming. I am looking for ideas, suggestions, and advice anywhere I can find it so I particularly like this site. / Joni
    posted from mobile phone

  3. Sure Ikea book cases are inexpensive and present well.. But really how effective are they at selling your product?
    Specialized systems, specifically developed to properly display and merchandise e.g. books in appropriate high traffic store areas have been proven to increase sales by 100%.
    Book shelves offer great storage capacity, displaying books face on, on a simple acrylic shelving system would generally attract more potential buyers apposed to many books huddled together like a group of penguins in a blizzard.
    Consider speaking to a professional shop shelving supplier for helpful advice on which type of system would be right for your application.

  4. Does anyone know of any supplier of used shelving. Seems like a lot of reatilers going out of business might make a lot of this avaialble.

  5. Grins, I think I could write a entire blog on the trials and tribulations of bookstore shelving. To keep it simple we began when Hollywood Video was going out of business. Many of the stores had liquidation sales. We obtained many a shelf for very cheap, not to mention islands with wheels, plastic shelving to go on end caps, signage that we could use for our pricing. In our area there still are many Hollywood Video stores which have shelving in them. You have to contact the individual realtors to make deals.

    The shelving basically serves our purpose for now. They are non adjustable but very sturdy once they are set. Great for paperbacks not neccessarily hardbacks or any type of oversize books. Usually the top and bottom shelves will accomodate hardbacks, but that doesn’t really help since the six shelves inbetween have to accomodate hardbacks. We turn many of the hardbacks on their sides. Most customers dont mind, I have one customer that says we must have sections with just paperbacks and then hardbacks, which is impossible although I see the point.

    The only downturn with this shelving is that they come in sections. You can easily move one section without taking apart, possibly two, but after that you are at the mercy of learning how to take apart and even harder, put back together until you become used to it. We have moved many of these shelves, most times without too much stress, but have had collapses, the occasional bump on the head, or cuts on the fingers or arms. The cost far outweighes these slight mishaps. Once they are set, we havent had any problems.


  6. I love the IKEA idea too. However, for selling paperbacks, the Billy System depth is too large. What other options coordinate well that you’ve found to work for paperbacks? Thanks.

  7. Ikea shelves are cheap.

    They are also a highly unoriginal choice, cheap looking to many people, made in China (not at all green), and not custom made for specific locations and stock.

    The world seems less and less concerned with quality and more and more with immediate profits.

    Spend four times as much on custom shelving and you will eventually get your money back or more plus you will have an original store.

    Ikea is a big multi-national company that puts crap in everyone’s home. How about writing an article on alternatives to ikea shelving!

    • Damien – I’ve had thousands of customers that have disagreed to you. We used Ikea Billy shelves and they truly looked great. Many of our visitors mentioned that ours was one of the nicest looking bookshops they had ever been in. Quality was why we chose these – I’m sitting amongst the same shelves that appear in many photos on this site – they still look great. And spending 4 times more is not always a great solution for somebody with very tight margins.

      If you have an article about alternatives – I’d be happy to publish it. We do like to explore all options.

      • Hi

        Sorry if my post was a bit harsh. Of course Billy shelves can look good. I have a B&M shop and at first it was completely Billy shelves. They were cheap and looked good. But after a while I realised their limitations. For fiction the shelves were too deep and too high. For heavy art books the shelves would almost immediately sag. I didn’t like that the popularity of the shelves meant that many customers would recognise the shelves from their own home or other stores. I wanted my shop to be unique. I spent AU$20000 on 25mm hoop pine ply and made custom shelves myself. (I guess I’m lucky I have woodworking skills) One wall of the shop has shelves that go 4m high with a rolling ladder. Of course it’s all subjective. What looks good to one person can look cheap to another.


        • Damien that’s fantastic – I’d love to visit some day.

          Of course my comments were in line with a store that is getting off the ground. That’s a lot of money to spend and money you would have a hard time getting back if things didn’t work out. If you’re established and have the money to spend then your solution would be much preferred.

          If you’d like to email me some photos and a little plug for your shop I’d love to post them on The Bookshop Blog.

  8. I am considering the Billy bookcases for a new bookstore. I have a few in my home, without the backs (prefer the way it looks) and they are dangerously wobbly. How secure are your bookcases and did you attach them to the wall? Do you have the backs on them?

    • Here’s what I did. I used “No More Nails” glue and glued a two foot long (and 2 inches high, 1 inch thick) piece of wood to the gyprock wall then used a simple metal bracket to screw the billy into the wood. They were quite secure.

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