Bookstores and Greedy Landlords

“Book Window” in Downtown L.A.’s Last Bookstore on 5th and Spring

Sometimes I think the silent movies had it right. The landlord was always a miser who thought nothing of evicting widows and orphans for late payment of rent. Now as bookstores are shutting their doors forever because some landlord was a richer tenant and a more upscale clientele. Let’s face it, selling books is not the easy way to wealth. And, what is more, many bookstores have a scruffy air about them. Not the sort of people who would be invited to Mar-a-Lago or the Trump Tower.

In most bookstores, the top price for an item is usually around $30 for a hardback and $20 for a paperback. Compare that with the money that could be made by selling a fashionable handbag or a stylish outfit to some empty-headed poltroon. Of course, even fashionable boutiques have off days, because there are not enough rich clients around to make owners of commercial real estate happy.


Curiously, I don’t even like to visit a retail establishment unless there is a nearby bookstore to make the trip worthwhile. I used to walk into Santa Monica on Sunday mornings to go to Barnes & Noble. Now that it has closed down, I would not be put off if the whole 3rd Street Promenade slid into the ocean. It is well known that I don’t care for anything fashionable or stylish, and I do not throw money around to buy fancy bling-bling or even gourmet meals.

If more malls had good bookstores, one result would be more sales in the surrounding stores. There is always likely to be some dinosaur like me who disappears into the bookstore while the wives and children exercise their credit cards buying frou-frou.


The Bookseller

Michael R. Weinstein, Bookseller, in His Torrance Store

Booksellers are a hardy breed. Even as the cost of commercial rentals is going up, the unit sales price for most books seems to be holding steady. Five years ago, I stopped at Alpine Village Market in Torrance near the intersection of Torrance Boulevard and Vermont, probably to buy some of their high quality meats and groceries. A few doors down from the market was a used bookstore signed only as Collectible Books. I was pleasantly surprised to see that it was a used book store with a fairly large stock.

The genial owner, Michael R. Weinstein knows his business and has an interesting selection of literature, history, genre fiction, and miscellaneous non-fiction in his labyrinthine store. I cannot pay him a visit without making some sort of find.

I remember when Los Angeles had dozens of used book stores, including three within walking distance of my apartment. No more. I used to go as far afield as Glendale to visit Brand Books, but it is gone. Sam Johnson Books in Mar Vista is still there, but its co-owner, my friend Bob Klein, passed away a couple years ago.

So, Michael, eat a healthy diet, get plenty of sleep and exercise, because I need good booksellers like you to supply me with what I need to make it through the day.


The Raisin in the Oatmeal

Sam: Johnson’s Bookstore in Culver City

Sam: Johnson’s Bookshop in Culver City

My doctor prescribed that I take long walks four days a week. Now that I am working only two days a week, it is much easier to comply. This morning, for example, I walked from Pico and Pacific down to where Windward meets the ocean—along two miles of “boardwalk” including parts of Santa Monica and Venice. My destination was Small World Books, one of the few remaining independent bookstores in West Los Angeles.

When I walk south, I go along Bundy to Venice Boulevard, where (not coincidentally) Sam: Johnson’s Bookshop is located. It is easily the best used bookshop for miles around.

Do I head west? Then my turnaround point is the three-story Barnes & Noble on the Promenade in Santa Monica.

Small World Books on the Venice Boardwalk

Small World Books on the Venice Boardwalk

Even with bookstores disappearing at an alarming rate, I have this book-buying habit that I have to somehow keep within reasonable limits. On my long walks, bookstores are like the raisin in the oatmeal. They give me a tangible reward for all that exercise.

When the temperature begins to heat up, I may have to join an air-conditioned health club that has treadmills and exercise bicycles. Hot weather is a powerful disincentive to outdoor exercise.