House packed with books makes for unique Airbnb getaway on the border

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EL PASO – Airbnb customers have more than 300 houses to choose from in this city on the edge of Texas. Some may pick a place to stay based on location. Others may select a spot for its price or amenities. And book lovers may find themselves drawn to a cozy bungalow just to the east of Downtown that has stacks of quality reading material.

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“I have books hiding in some of the kitchen cabinets. I have the beautiful picture books behind doors in the kitchen, I still have books in the closet, I have a bunch of the books boxed in the storage area,” said Vanessa Johnson, the host of the Book House.

The house contains a curated collection of more 7,000 books, which fill each room of the dwelling and a storage area. It has one bedroom, two bathrooms, a kitchen, dining area and two other rooms – all packed with books, but not feeling cluttered. The house can accommodate up to 2 guests and is meant to be a quiet retreat close to the heart of the city. “People have loved staying here for maybe a weekend and have gone through a couple of books,” Johnson said.

The idea for the house started in March of 2016, when Johnson wanted an office and a rental space. The house she found was built in 1892. She restored it by adding a new roof, windows, flooring, and paint. Johnson’s daughter helped her choose bright colors for each room. A mural was added to the backyard wall. The house opened to Airbnb guests in August of 2016.

The books were acquired from Martin’s Bookstore after it went out of business in July 2016. Johnson made an agreement to purchase 10,000 of the shop’s 40,000 book and magazine inventory. She and a group of about 10 people she gathered selected each book that would go into the collection.Johnson picked out books that interested her including philosophy, classics, fiction, nonfiction, and picture books. Others in the group were tasked with picking out the best books that were available in the large collection.

“We had somebody who knew about science fiction, and so she went in and pulled 500 of the best science fictions books out of a section that was maybe 3,000 or 4,000,” Johnson said.

The collection also includes journalism books, poetry, children’s books, old issues of the Paris review, music books, and a local section with books from El Paso and nearby Juarez, Mexico.

Johnson had always dreamed of opening up her own small independent book store, but this is the next best thing. “This place is zoned for bed and breakfast so it’s not zoned as a book store, so I can’t legally sell the books here,” she said.

The reviews from guests have been positive. As of April 30, the Book House has a 4.5 out of 5 rating on Airbnb. The only downside, one reviewer remarked, was the lack of a TV. But that isn’t an issue for most guests who focus on the great reading material available to pass the time.

“The books are amazing, especially the old issues of the Paris Review. It’s in walking distance to downtown and in nice neighborhood. Plus, the wall art in the back is funky and cool!” wrote one Airbnb guest who signed her name as Rachel.

The book house was not Johnson’s first experience with Airbnb. She rents space at her own house also. She has superhost status with the online home rental company, which means she has never canceled a stay, has had more than 10 stays in the house, maintains an average rating of 4.8, and she responds within the first 24 hours 90 percent of the time.

“This is a very special place with a very special host. We’re so glad we found Vanessa’s Book House. Once inside, we didn’t want to go anywhere!” wrote Airbnb guest Deborah.

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In her host bio on the site, Johnson, who also works in real estate and as a musician playing piano and organ, describes herself as a “detail-oriented professional. ” She has a background in international relations and a masters degree in Latin American and Border Studies. An avid traveler, Johnson is an El Paso native, along with her husband, Rich Wright, who is a writer and gives walking tours of downtown Juarez.

“We thought AirBnB would be a good way to meet interesting people, and make a little bit of money,” her bio on the site says.

The house is located a mile away from Downtown El Paso, a half a mile from Interstate 10, and one and half miles from Ciudad Juarez. Johnson is also open to renting the Book House out for parties, poetry meetings or other events. For pricing or more information you can look at the Airbnb posting.

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