Badger's Bookshop photo

Books crowd the shelves and tables in Badger’s Bookshop located at 4730 Cooper Ave. on Wednesday, Feb. 5, 2020, in Lincoln, Nebraska.

Down a winding stairway dotted with books along its ledges and window sills, a door opens to reveal a sweater-clad man perched on a stool, his head a spray of white hair.

He watches for customers while keeping an open book within reach. A pair of glasses rests snugly on his nose. He looks like he might drown in the volumes of nonfiction and British literature that sit on towering shelves, tables and crates around him, comprising the supply of Badger’s Bookshop.

“The inventory in store is only half the amount of books I own,” he says, his eyes scanning the garden-level apartment and its rooms. “And that might be an underestimate.”

The bookish man in spectacles introduces himself as Bill Lock, or rather, Will Lock, he clarifies, and explains he prefers to be called Will when he’s working with customers. This way, when someone calls the store asking for Bill he knows it’s a close friend. The stack of business cards on his desk contain the bookkeeper’s professional name.

“I don’t know that it’s saved me much time,” he says with a chuckle.

Lock began his bookshop venture with his new alias after his retirement in 2014. The shop unveiled in 2015 after many years of desiring to own a storefront dating back to Lock’s graduation from college. Since the 1970s, Lock has been accumulating books of all genres — from Mark Twain to Delia Owens.

“A lot of my friends were buying houses and I didn’t want to buy a house … but I did start buying books,” Lock said. “I just kept buying books. Eventually, I bought a house and I filled it up with books. I thought, ‘OK, when I retire I’m going to start selling my books.’”

Many years later, Lock made use of his passion for his habitual book-buying by renting a property off Prescott Avenue and transferring a portion of his books onto its shelves. He now hopes to share his love of reading with Lincoln residents by peddling his collection and other finds he purchases along the way.

Lock said he’s content with his modestly quaint store and faithful clientele. He’s not concerned with making money as he is serving Lincoln with low-priced, slightly-used novels. As long as citizens are reading, he added, he’s happy.

“I enjoy what I do. I have loyal customers; I get new customers every week,” Lock said. “I can pay the rent and utilities, buy books and pay some people to work for me, and that’s really all I set out to do.”

Lock strolls around his shop, helping an old man in a flat cap find Bibles and books about railroads. Paper cranes hang from the ceiling and old posters and maps cling to the walls. Chattering enthusiastically, the two walk into a small room and rummage through a crowded stack of novels. Behind them sits a miniature canoe, propped up on a shelf, containing multiple copies of “The Wind in the Willows.”

The book was Lock’s favorite as a child, he said. He especially related to the wise, benevolent, spectacle-wearing Mr. Badger seen on the front cover.

“Mr. Badger was always the one who brought order to chaos,” Lock said. “He always bailed [his friends] out, and I sort of felt like I was that way with my friends.”

Over the years of doing business, Lock has been able to add fellow booksellers to his list of comrades, doing business and building relationships with the owners of storefronts like A Novel Idea and Bluestem Books. Lock said he often sends customers looking for particular books over to other bookstores and vice-versa.

Leslie Huerta, owner of Francie & Finch Bookshop, speaks kindly about Lock. He’s well-respected in the bookselling community, she said, noting that his bookworm tendencies don’t hinder his friendliness.

“You can tell he really loves to talk about [his books] and connect people with the right stories. It’s a genuine fondness he has for his business,” Huerta said. “He has a strong depth of knowledge about all the books in his shop, and he’s a great talker. He’ll talk your ear off.”

For Lock, books are his main talking point because of his sheer passion for selling them. Lock said the joy people receive when stepping into the shop and foraging his collection is a fulfilling avocation during this season of his life.

“My goal is to have something to do in my retirement that I would enjoy doing and feel is valuable,” Lock said. “I do hope that I would be able to provide books that people want and provide a pleasant place for people to come look for books, too — kind of a small, quiet space with a diverse selection of books.”

The flat-capped man plops a stack of books on the desk with satisfaction from his findings. Lock adds up the total and hands the books back to him in a sack.

“Have a nice day, and enjoy the weather out there,” Lock says, pushing up his glasses.