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A bookstore blooms in Echo Park

October 2, 2008 |  3:15 pm

Stories While economic times are tough for most lines of work (excepting barrel-based clothiers), there is one surprising recent growth market in Los Angeles -- independent bookstores. The expansion of Skylight Books in Los Feliz was an unlikely smack against the conventional wisdom that brick-and-mortar bookstores are a lost cause. Now Spaceland Productions’ booking czar Liz Garo is weeks away from opening STORIES, a new-used bookstore and cafe, on a rapidly developing block of Sunset Boulevard in Echo Park.

“Most people we talked to about it were like, ‘Books? Who reads books?’” Garo said. “It makes no sense on paper. But many of the people who live in Echo Park are young and diverse, a lot of artists and outsiders, and we feel really positive about it.”

The store, which claims the space previously occupied by the popular indie-rock general store Sea Level Records, should be open by late October. Garo, along with business partner Claudia Colodro, plan to carry a mix of contemporary fiction, California and L.A. history, a smattering of art and design books, small-press journals and a used section priced at starving-novelist rates. They share the block with the McSweeney’s-affiliated literary outreach program, 826 L.A. (and its accompanying “Echo Park Time Travel Mart”), a happy zoning accident that should ensure a steady stream of customers, volunteers and networking writer-rockers for both.

“Our landlord checked in with the 826 people about us, and we’d worked with them before through fund-raiser shows, so we got their stamp of approval,” Garo said. “Claudia and I laugh that this building is the literary focal point of Echo Park, but a lot of people really want that.”

The two have plans for a small cafe with Middle Eastern-inspired snacks (salads, marinated peppers, hummus) in the store as well. Garo acknowledges the creeping cultural and economic shift of Echo Park in recent years, particularly STORIES’ stretch of Sunset Boulevard between Alvarado Street and Echo Park Avenue, which has or will soon sport a new late-night pizza parlor, a boutique ice cream shop, a vinyl-only record store and an upscale imported beer bar. But Garo views the store as a net gain for every demographic in the neighborhood.

“Claudia and I have both worked in Echo Park, and we see the changes, but the neighborhood is really open and excited about having a positive new business,” Garo said. “Echo Park is in a delicate place right now. But we wanted to make it so you can buy a used book for a couple bucks and go read by Echo Park Lake for an afternoon.”

--August Brown   

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