Bookstore of the week: Village Books
Walking through Village Books in Pacific Palisades, browsers might not notice the wise words beneath their feet. Quotes from poets and thinkers were etched into patchwork slabs of concrete when the bookstore was opened in 1997 by owner Katie O'Loughlin.
Light from the front window fills the store. O'Laughlin was an attorney before she opened the store. "We had a Crown Books in the palisades, and the store closed," she said. "Out of the blue I thought, 'I don’t want to live in a town that doesn't have a bookstore' -- that was December, and we opened in July."
On the store's shelves, national bestsellers sit beside local favorites. "We live in the kind of community where you know customers by name -- it is the 'Cheers' of a bookstore. You know what they like to read, it really is an old-fashioned, Mayberry-type setting," O'Laughlin said. "I lived here before I opened the store -- I knew a lot of people from being a mother, being involved in church and school."
The bookstore is located at 1049 Swarthmore Ave., a main retail strip in Pacific Palisades; previously, it was a women's clothing store. O'Laughlin took the doors off the two dressing rooms and removed a dividing wall and found she had a children's nook. "It's cozy," she said. The children's area features a colorful floor mural.
"Since I opened the store, I've gotten to know just about everybody," O'Laughlin said. "A lot of celebrities live in the neighborhood, and like it because people treat them just like a neighbor. We try to honor that."
But one local celebrity has been something of a hero to the bookstore. Shortly before Christmas 2008, when the bookstore was struggling with competition from Amazon and the weight of the recession, actor Tom Hanks came to the store to sign anything related to his films -- books, DVDs, even posters -- that people bought there. His support helped get the store through a very difficult time. No word if he signed copies of "Splash," the 1984 film in which he played opposite mermaid Daryl Hannah, but the store's decor does include a (modest) mermaid.
Every inch of space in the small store is being used. Right inside the door is a round table packed high with books. Comfortable chairs near the front window provide a place to sit and read. One weekday afternoon, I sat and watched as staff filled special requests for a steady trickle of customers, guiding them to the books they might like, offering to make orders for those that weren't in stock.
One woman was shopping for young-adult books for a relative. The bookseller and customer decided Suzanne Collins' Hunger Games series, while popular, was a little too bleak for the still-young reader.
"I'm an old-fashioned book lover," O'Laughlin said. "I don't even like paperbacks; I like hardcovers." O'Laughlin has one full-time staffer and a handful who work part-time. Notes like this one in Julie Orringer's "The Invisible Bridge" help describe the books when there's no staff person available to do so.
"I live down the street; I don't really have an office. I work about 20, 25 hours on the floor in the store, mainly at night and weekends. The rest of the time I'm doing the ordering, banking, bill-paying," O'Laughlin said. She also does many events outside of the store, including book parties in homes and book clubs. "We just get these calls and say yes."
It's difficult for small bookstores like Village Books to compete with Amazon: In the time it takes them to order a book from a distributor, a customer could go online and get a book delivered right to their door. People who buy books need to get something else from the local bookstore: the chance to browse, the booksellers' expertise -- and also a couple of tchotchkes.
"When I'm finished with a book," O'Laughlin said, "I feel like it's a friend and I have to say hello to it now and then." Having a fondness for the physical has a downside for the owner of Village Books, however. O'Laughlin admitted, "I don't have enough bookshelves at home."
-- Carolyn Kellogg
Photos: Village Books. Credit: Carolyn Kellogg