Kalahari Books: My New Favorite Quirky Place in Joburg

Several months ago I wrote an article featuring my top ten favorite quirky places in Joburg. Kalahari Books wasn’t on the list because I didn’t know about it back then. But if I had, it totally would have been.

Kalahari wide

Kalahari Books.

Kalahari Books has nothing to do with Kalahari.com, the South African online shopping giant. Kalahari Books came into existence long before Kalahari.com did; in fact Kalahari Books came into existence long before the internet did. Richard Welch, Kalahari Books’ owner, can’t remember exactly how long ago he started the business but he thinks it was about 30 years ago. (When you visit Kalahari, ask Richard to tell you the story of his legal skirmish with Kalahari.com.)

Richard Ben Franklin

I like this shot of Richard. He looks like Ben Franklin.

I first learned about Kalahari in April while working on the “Norwood and Surrounds” chapter of the SandtonPlaces book. I followed Google Maps to 2 Dunottar Street, just off Louis Botha Avenue in Orange Grove. I saw a small sign for Kalahari and squeezed my car into a cramped parking lot shared by a garage and a medical supply company. (Look for the flag pole with a wheelchair at the top.) I spotted another Kalahari sign, with an arrow indicating that I should walk to the other side of the building. I followed and found yet another sign pointing up a cement ramp.

Kalahari sign

Kalahari is tricky to find but don’t be deterred. Just follow the signs.

I found myself in an entry hall of sorts, a pavilion with a corrugated iron roof. The entry hall was filled with books.

Kalahari entrance2

The Kalahari entrance.  

I followed the final sign. At last, I entered book Nirvana.

Kalahari wide2

Books.

Secret Garden

Books Books Books.

Kalahari3

Quirky man reading books.

Joburg has a lot of second-hand bookstores and I’ve visited many of them. But Kalahari is special. The warehouse-sized room is stuffed with books but it somehow doesn’t feel cluttered or cramped. Soothing classical music filters through the room. Richard will make you coffee and the coffee is good. There’s plenty of fresh air, light, and comfortable seating. Best of all, Richard is delightful. And if you’re looking for a book — any book — odds are he’ll find it for you.

I could say more but really, what else needs to be said? Kalahari Books is a must-visit for anyone who likes books, for anyone who likes quirkiness, for anyone who likes Joburg. There aren’t many places like this on the earth. So, go.

Kalahari Richard

A man and his books.

Kalahari is open Tuesday through Saturday from 9:30 to 4:30. If you want to meet Richard (trust me, you do), it’s best to call before visiting because he pops in and out. His number is 082-678-8619.

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18 Comments

  • Reply semper September 4, 2014 at 6:01 pm

    Looks like a wonderful place!

  • Reply Optimistic Kid September 4, 2014 at 6:58 pm

    What a beautiful picture. I wouldn’t mind spending a couple days a week in there.

    • Reply 2summers September 10, 2014 at 2:57 pm

      You certainly could. Maybe even an entire week straight.

  • Reply Sunshinebright September 5, 2014 at 3:39 am

    If I lived in Joburg, I certainly would make it my business to visit Kalahari Books. Sounds fabulous.

    • Reply 2summers September 10, 2014 at 2:56 pm

      You would love it!

  • Reply amelie88 September 5, 2014 at 4:55 am

    Richard should consider opening a second branch in NYC. So I can go too. Just my two cents.

    • Reply 2summers September 10, 2014 at 2:56 pm

      Haha, I’ll pass on your recommendation the next time I see him 🙂

  • Reply Net Ek September 5, 2014 at 9:21 am

    I’ll definitely go and visit Richard!

    • Reply 2summers September 10, 2014 at 2:55 pm

      That’s great, I hope you enjoy.

  • Reply Ang Lloyd September 5, 2014 at 10:26 am

    I have to go here, looks amazing!

  • Reply emilydb13 September 8, 2014 at 5:11 am

    love the the post. follow my blog: liznsong

  • Reply Firefly - Jonker September 9, 2014 at 12:31 pm

    Always an interesting book to discover in a place like this

  • Reply Claudz (@Claudz) September 10, 2014 at 10:02 am

    I’ll definitely go check out this little hidden gem!

    • Reply 2summers September 10, 2014 at 2:54 pm

      Please do. Richard deserves more visitors 🙂

  • Reply Sine September 11, 2014 at 2:33 am

    I wish I’d known about them back when living there. Books were so expensive in South Africa, I guess that is why used bookstores are so abundant there. Richard sounds like a great guy to meet and talk to. I love the convoluted approach with all the signs, so typical of many of my own forays into finding stuff. Every time it’s an adventure. Maybe not as convenient as ordering from Amazon, but so much more interesting!

  • Reply theworldiswrong2013 September 14, 2014 at 2:05 pm

    I first came to interest in South Africa after watching Blue Crush 2 a few years ago. I am a traveller at heart but circumstances leave me rarely outside of my home turf of New England. You have renewed my interest in Africa(and travel in general). If ever I make it to Joburg I will be certain to put in a visit to Kalahari Books.

    • Reply 2summers September 14, 2014 at 9:02 pm

      Thanks so much for the lovely comment! I’m glad you’re enjoying my blog and I hope you make it to Joburg someday.

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