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Two Southern California bookstores call it quits

June 3, 2011 |  8:07 am

Village_einstein

Village Books in Pacific Palisades and Laguna Beach's Latitude 33 each announced this week that they'll be closing their doors. Village Books, which opened in 1997, will close on June 30. The 15-year-old Latitude 33 may stay open longer but plans to be closed before the end of August.

Katie O'Laughlin, owner of Village Books, explained in a letter to the Palisadian-Post that the store wasn't able to keep up with changes in the book business.

Village Books has struggled financially for the past 10 years, but I was able to somehow make it work. Unfortunately, recent changes in the book business have made it impossible to continue operating the store in its present form.

In the last quarter of 2010, we tightened up our inventory and staff and, in recognition of the impact electronic books might have, stepped up our efforts to think of Village Books as a 'book space' as much as a book store. We started our popular memoir-writing class, launched our first literary road trip (to Ventura) and planned our summer camp. We partnered with one of our distributors to expand our Web site and offered discounts and free shipping to encourage you to shop online there; soon you will be able to download electronic books from our site to your iPads and other devices.

Yet despite these efforts, we have been forced to face a harsh reality: since January, our sales have dropped dramatically.

Though O'Laughlin may search for a way to continue on as a bookseller, Tom Ahern, the owner of Latitude 33, will not. He explains his slightly different predicament on the store's website.

The last two years, however, have been difficult for us. Sales declined significantly, from a combination of the recession across the country; an even deeper local recession in Laguna Beach due to declines in tourism and art gallery sales (gallery owners and staff, as well as artists, have traditionally bought lots of books, especially art books); and competition from Amazon.com, with its strategy of predatory pricing and selling the Kindle and ebooks below cost to gain market share. Despite cutting costs to the absolute minimum, I have had to put in over $100,000 during the past two years to keep the doors open. The lease was expiring, and I would have to lock myself in to run the store for several more years to stay in the space.

At the same time, more and more I felt the need to retire for personal reasons.

I tried hard to find a buyer for the store, to keep a good bookstore in Laguna. Several newspapers ran articles on the search for a buyer, and I placed an ad in the classified section of Bookselling This Week, the enewsletter of the American Booksellers Association. Nineteen parties expressed interest, but none came through with an offer.

As writer and journalist Scott Martelle wrote, losing physical bookstores means we become more insular as readers. Although Publishers Weekly reported this week that things are looking up for independent bookstores, it's clear from this week's announcement that the future is not so bright across Southern California.

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-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: Floor inset at Village Books in Pacific Palisades. Credit: Carolyn Kellogg / Los Angeles Times

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