You’ve probably driven or walked by Princeton Antiques Book Shop on Atlantic Ave in Atlantic City. It’s a tall, colorful and eye-catching building with hundreds of books in cases outside. Maybe you’ve even thought about going inside. Apparently, a smattering of locals each week stop in to tell owner Robert Ruffolo just that – that they’ve always wondered what it looks like inside.
It is an above-ground catacomb lined with books. Lamps and ornaments line the tops of bookshelves, while the stacks are chock-a-block with books and binders. The binders contain catalog details – few of the store’s books have ISBN numbers, so they are classified by picture and other details – and also Ruffolo’s personal collection of old Atlantic City photographs. He’s been collecting them for forty years and he thinks it’s one of the biggest collections around.
Ruffolo’s father bought the property and transferred his antiques business there from Princeton (hence the name) in the 1960s. But even before the days of Amazon, the store, which specializes in bibles, Jane Austen, pre-1940 stock market books and a host of other topics, was more of a warehouse than a typical book shop. Ruffolo’s business has been finding books for other collectors and finding buyers for the other books that he picks up.
Ruffolo got his start working for his dad, who ran the antiques business, and he sold books to Stockton College which had just opened in Atlantic City. Ruffolo himself grew up in North Carolina and was at college there, but after visiting his father’s Atlantic City store, he decided to move. “I fell in love with the girls, the beach, the boardwalk,” he said. He transferred to Stockton and was among the first students at the college, taking classes at the Mayflower hotel.
It is a neat twist to Ruffolo’s story that Stockton is now returning to Atlantic City to build a campus on the island, just a short distance from the Princeton Antique Book Shop. “We’ve been here 50 years and finally a college is coming to us, we didn’t have to go into a college town and open up a book shop,” Ruffolo said. “I don’t think any other book shop can claim that.”
Ruffolo and one of his sons have made some headway shifting books around inside the store to create a small section for visitors to stand and pick up and look through the books on hand. Since most of the books available to browse are housed outdoors, it can put off customers when it’s too cold. Future Stockton students – ETA 2018 – could bring many changes to the store and Atlantic City more widely, Ruffolo believes.
He talked to us about his view of the local economy and the changes the city needs to make to help small businesses. You can watch that here: