Another Southern California independent bookseller is calling it quits. Studio City's Portrait of a Bookstore will close its doors May 17 after 26 years in the business.
Owner Julie von Zerneck, a former actress, opened the store in 1986 with the help of her husband and co-owner, Frank, a television producer. At the time, he'd been making a string of slightly naughty Lifetime TV movies: "Portrait of an Escort," "Portrait of a Stripper," "Katie: Portrait of a Centerfold," "Sharon: Portrait of a Mistress." Hence, Portrait of a Bookstore: a little sassier than you thought.
Since 1998, the bookstore has been housed inside the sprawling Aroma Café, a warren of cozy rooms and outdoor patios. Portrait of a Bookstore occupies a 900-square-foot room that feels both completely its own and connected to the cafe around it. In its small space, it has packed a great range of independent bestsellers, classics, jewelry, children's books, greeting cards, unique glassware and other gifts. During its last month in business, Portrait of a Bookstore's stock is all marked down 50%.
But it wasn't the stuff in the store that its staff emphasized when I visited it in 2011. "There are people who've been coming here for 20 years," bookstore manager Aida Chaldranyan said. "People 16 or 18 now that we watched grow up -- from 'Green Eggs and Ham' to 'Life of Pi.' "
That sentiment was echoed in a goodbye letter that the bookstore wrote to its customers: "Over the years, we have watched local writers work in our garden on their manuscripts, get published and arrive on bestseller lists. We have watched babies come into the world, learn to read in our children’s nook and grow up to start families of their own. We have cherished every moment of our time in this community."
Julie von Zerneck insists that closing the store now is the right time. “A happy ending depends on when you stop your story,” she says, borrowing from Orson Welles, “and this is our happy ending.”
-- Carolyn Kellogg
Photo: Portrait of a Bookstore in Studio City will close for good on May 17. Credit: Carolyn Kellogg / Los Angeles Times