The Last Bookstore. The sign in front of the building we were standing on the road in downtown Los Angeles was intriguing. On the tall glass window was written “We buy and sell books and records”. Peeping through the window, we could see array of books in shelves in a big hall. We had to enter it. Being book lovers, there was no other option.
By the way, an abridged version of this story titled “The Last Bookstore” is published in the March 2017 edition of OUTLOOK TRAVELLER India’s No 1 Travel Magazine.
“Welcome to The Last Bookstore sir” the security officer at the entrance wishes us even as he politely asks us to deposit our backpack with him. As he takes our bag, our eyes turn towards a shelf of books in the front. “$1 each” says the sign. We browse the titles, collect the token from the officer and enter.
The first thing that strikes you when you enter is the enormity of this place. 10,000 square feet spread over ground and first floor. Located in a heritage building of Citizens National Bank dating back to 1915, we are in a place where books are a passion. The white columns inside rise twenty-five feet to the vaulted ceilings . Original tile floors contain geometric designs and the sort of uneven wear makes the place more charming.
The cashier’s desk catches our eye. Supported by stack of books as the base, it is an interesting set up. This is a welcoming sign to anyone who love books. We stand still to absorb the ambience. We could see later that it was only the beginning of an amazing journey through books for next few hours.
Yes, welcome to “The Last Bookstore” where it is books, books and more books. Old and new. Old books at a huge bargain. And of course there are records too!
Started by Josh Spencer who used to sell books, CDs and other stuff on eBay in 2009 in a building in the Old Bank District. When he moved the store into its current location, two bookshops in Los Angeles had announced pending closures that same month, and downtown’s Metropolis Books went up for sale. Spencer didn’t go into this business with any strategy and he’s aware of the risks. “People look at all this,” he told “Los Angeles Downtown News” in 2011, “and think we’re rolling in the dough. They don’t realise I’ve used all the debt I can, from everywhere, to open this. We’re doing OK, but not great.” He added: “Whether we last will depend on if the community supports us. Right now, they’re supporting us.” It’s because there’s a lot to love here. We could see it ourselves.
Our journey starts with an entry into the “Art books annexe”, a new addition. Specially created for books on arts, architecture, photography, design or about anything related to arts, there is a gold mine of books waiting for you. We see excellent books on Picasso, classical painters, architects, photographers and others here. The coffee table books on arts are at throwaway prices. Another interesting section here is that of “rare” books. We see first edition of Lolita by Nabokov! First edition of Jungle book by Kipling! Being rare books, these are collectors’ items and hence come with a hefty price tag.
The best thing about the whole place is the way the books are arranged. It is beautifully done like any good library in America and finding a title is not difficult. At many places we see the sign “ If you could not find it, ask us for it”. The staff is friendly and knowledgeable. We see copies of banned “Satanic Verses” by Rushdie, a copy of “The Stranger” by Albert Camus. It has books of all genre from Classical literature to philosophy to Military history to Children’s books.
We come to the central hall. Stray beams of light come streaming through the tall glass windows. Chair and couches are placed in the centre of the store, though a sign warns:
Please note: we are not a library
– 1 hour time limit for chairs & couches
– No sleeping
You damage the books, you buy them
This message however doesn’t detract from the store’s warmth and larger message: that all are welcome.
We continue our browsing through the shelves and pick up some titles. We pick up the 1935 edition of the classic “The Amenities Of Book-Collecting And Kindred Affections” by Edward Newton for $3! (It sells at $33 on Amazon!) We had to cut down our desire of buying many titles as we are to return back to Bangalore after two days. That does not stop us from picking up another lovely book “Arctic Dreams” by Barry Lopez. Walking and browsing inside the store is a treat. We are awestruck and continue to explore the place. We look up to see astonishing installation – “A Wave” – made of books. Hung from the ceiling, it is fabulous.
We ask one of the employees about our favourite books – Books on travel. “It is on the level 1 sir. You can take the stairs in the corner sir” come the courteous reply. We deposit the books selected by us at the counter and take the stairs to the first floor which has books on history, politics, sports and many other subjects. Even as we climb the steps, we notice another fascinating installation. A printed paper roll hung from the ceiling in a uneven pattern!
But the best is yet to come. As we enter the floor, we see a hole with books neatly arranged around it! It is your photo opportunity! There is book kept for you to read when your picture can be clicked from the other side of the hole. Then we pass through a “Tunnel of books”. Yes, it is virtually a tunnel created by books arranged in such a way! There is a horror section in a separate room too.
We continue to look around leisurely checking out titles on history, politics, sports etc. We come to the travel section. What a treasure trove!. We see and pick up the first edition of travel classic “Video night in Kathmandu” by Pico Iyer for $4! We could see titles by Chatwin, Theroux, Bryson and many more. We pick up another classic “Blue Highways” by William Least Heat – Moon.
We walk down the stairs and head straight to the records section. Our first reaction here is that of “wow!”. Here are vintage LP records of singers you name! We see a lovely album “Self Portrait” by Bob Dylan with a painted self portrait of the singer on the cover! We also see old records of few Bollywood movies as well.
We would have loved to buy more books. But luggage restrictions on flight hold us back. But we savour every minute of our time in the book store. We go around one more time appreciating the collection of books. Again, we could not resist to pick up another gem! A 1981 edition of J D Salinger’s “Franny and Zooey” for $4!
The Last Bookstore. As the name suggests, it may be last of venerable book shops around the world. With books being sold online, many book shops have closed their shutters. As Spencer rightly says, it is the love of the people which is sustaining his passion. A passion for books. By a book lover for other book lovers of the world.
We bid good-bye reluctantly. We pick up our backpack from the security officer who smilingly ask us which titles did we pick. He appreciates and says that he loved reading “Blue Highways”.
“Come back again, Sir” he says.
“Definitely”, we assure him. “Next time, for sure”
- The Last Bookstore being in downtown Los Angeles is well connected by public transport.
- Dedicate at least 3 hours to explore the book store. It is an experience you will cherish whether you buy a book or not.
- The mezzanine floor of The Last Bookstore has some nice art galleries.
- More details of the book shop can be seen in their website. http://lastbookstorela.com/
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