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Bookstore of the Week: Stories Books & Cafe in Echo Park

January 20, 2011 |  3:56 pm

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Stories Books and Cafe is located on Sunset Boulevard in the heart of Echo Park. Right next door is the literary nonprofit 826LA, with its retail storefront Time Travel Mart. Nearby are shops selling vintage and designer clothes and records. And bars. And The Echo.

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Co-owners Claudia Colodro and Liz Garo opened the store in November 2008, when the economy was at its lowest. They'd been planning and getting the space ready for so long, they saw little to do but go forward. "It was probably the worst time to open a business," Colodro says, "but it's only been up from there."

Although the cafe is in the rear of the shop, people take advantage of the space in front -- and the free Wi-Fi -- to come to Stories to work. Or at the very least, to sit with their laptops open.

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The store's business is about half cafe, half books, Colodro says. Fiction is one of the genres popular with customers. "People love Bukowski, Fante -- that underworld life of the bohemian that is maybe no longer around," Colodro says. "Or maybe it is in Echo Park."

Stories_1Colodro worked at Dutton's in North Hollywood from 1997 to 2003; inspired by that store's mix, Stories also sells both new and used books. Some of Stories’ infrastructure -- the shelves and coffee equipment -- came from Dutton’s Brentwood, which closed in 2008, not long before Stories opened.

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Stories has a flavor that's particularly geared toward the tastes of the neighborhood: books about film, the arts, music, entertainment. It's the kind of place where you're equally likely to find a book on "Caddyshack" as one on Luis Bunuel -- and where both are equally likely to be snapped up.

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The paintings high on the west wall are by co-owner Liz Garo's father. Garo is well known in the music world -- she's the booker for the Echo and Echoplex clubs and was Spaceland's booker before that. She has an undying enthusiasm for music and somehow has energy left over for Stories.

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Colodro had a few surprises -- children's books do well in the store, but hardcovers are not as popular as she'd thought they might be. "When you're a new business owner, the first year is just crazy," she says. "The second year, you start to have a groove."

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Despite abutting an alley, the back patio at Stories is pleasant for breakfast coffee or lunch from the cafe. It's where the store holds readings, too, except on the coldest winter days. From the store, a decorated hallway leads out to the patio.

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The Stories event for the magazine Slake went exceedingly well. "It was amazing how many people came. I think they really filled a hole," Colodro says. "It just goes to show: People really want local literature." Slake's first issue continued to sell well in the months after the event, eventually becoming the store's top seller for 2010.

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photos: Stories Books & Cafe. Credit: Carolyn Kellogg / Los Angeles Times

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