The Death of a Bookstore

Sam Johnson’s Bookstore in Mar Vista in Happier Times

This is the story of a bookstore which I frequented for more than forty years before it went belly up two and a half years ago. I started spending time and money there back in the 1970s, when it was located on Santa Monica Boulevard between Colby and Federal. At that point, I was working at Santa Monica and Barry, and the bookstore was on my way to the post office, where I did a daily noontime mail pickup.

Later, the two partners, Bob and Larry, purchased a building on Venice Boulevard near Centinela (see above photo)—and I continued to patronize the store.

But there is something inherently problematical about partnerships. Sooner or later, one of the partners goes off the rails, and their business venture goes to the demnition bow-wows. That’s what happened to Sam Johnson’s. Larry Klein published three books, all of which were excellent, but as he aged, his life took a darker turn. He complained about his health; and he no longer went on strenuous weekend hikes in the San Gabriel Mountains. His worsening health also had an effect on his mind.

The upshot was that his partner Larry Myers somehow received the short end of the stick. And suddenly his milk also soured. When Bob suddenly died, it seems the bookstore was to be put up for sale, with Bob’s estate getting the store. The bookstore had good friends, chief among them David Benesty, who manned the desk when Bob was gone and Larry was beginning to fade away.

Well, Sam Johnson’s is no more, leaving me with nowhere to turn for top condition used books but the Internet. Don’t feel sorry for me: I have some 6,000 books. But the West Los Angeles area is now poorer. And the bookstore is shuttered, with no one taking over the premises. I saw it just the day before yesterday, when I went to Santouka at the Mitsuwa Marketplace for some Japanese ramen soup.

Sam Johnson’s had a formative part to play in my literary tastes. That’s where I became a die-hard fan of the works of G. K. Chesterton,