Bookstore of the week: Eso Won Books
Owner James Fulgate and his partner, Thomas Hamilton, opened Eso Won Books in 1990. The original location was at Crenshaw and Slauson, upstairs from the shop Africana Imports. "The UPS people hated us," Fulgate laughs.
Since the fall of 2006, the store has been located at 4331 Degnan Blvd. in Leimert Park. Although Eso Won Books' current store has more than 3,200 square feet, it's a shade smaller than its previous location on La Brea.
In 1995, a young activist who'd just written a memoir came to Eso Won for a signing. There wasn't a huge crowd for Barack Obama and his book, "Dreams From My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance," but the bookstore made him feel welcome. When he returned to Los Angeles with "The Audacity of Hope," Obama told his publishers that's where he wanted to go. The store sold more than 900 books.
Selling books at that volume is a rare bounty for Eso Won. In late 2007, news spread that rough economic times and discounts from Amazon and retail chains had brought such difficulties to the store that it might close by the end of the year. But friends rallied, including Pastor John J. Hunter of the First African Methodist Episcopal Church, who called the bookstore "a treasure in the African American community." Eso Won pulled through.
When Eso Won started, there wasn't much planning. "All we did was pay ourselves and order more books," Fulgate told Jacket Copy. "You have to constantly reinvent yourself."
Late on a weekday afternoon, several of the customers who walked in were quickly engaged by the amiable Fulgate, who knew a few of them. Others got help from Hamilton, who came out from behind the counter and led them from shelf to shelf, helping them gather a stack of books. "The rain before Christmas made things really slow," Fulgate says, "but one customer can make a difference."
Eso Won has a wide selection, including coffee table books, children's books, fiction, mystery and local authors, in addition to new releases in fiction and nonfiction. The stock has a strong African American focus, with a left-leaning political slant.
These days, though, Fulgate says what's most important to the store's future success is its special booksignings. He knows few can be as big as Obama's -- although the signing for Bill Clinton's 2004 memoir, "My Life," was. This month, Spike Lee and Nikki Giovanni have signed books at the store. Up next: In March, the store is planning a series of events to coincide with the release of a new biography of Malcolm X.
-- Carolyn Kellogg
Photos: Eso Won Books. Credit: Carolyn Kellogg / Los Angeles Times