Last day at Dutton's Brentwood
On the day Dutton's Brentwood Bookstore ended its 24-year run, I went by to say goodbye to the place.
I'd been to the Dutton's farewell party at the end of March, but it was so jampacked with people it wasn't really conducive to a walk down memory lane. And I had to fight my confusion, as well-heeled Westsiders repeatedly toasted the store, over why this wealthy community — perhaps the richest collection of Americans outside Manhattan — was not able to sustain a sterling bookshop.
On Wednesday, what I was really looking forward to was the chance to poke through the aisles and find some overlooked treasures. During my years on the Westside, I'd haunted Dutton's, Midnight Special and the used-book store Wilshire Books — all of which are now gone.
Despite my mood, Dutton's was not the gloomy ghost town I'd expected. Some of my favorite rooms had been shut down, but what I think of as the main wing was packed with books in the best Dutton's style. And the place was pretty crowded. (That 60% off sale couldn't have hurt.) The staff members — who were praised by almost everyone I spoke to for previous stories about the shop's troubles — were in better spirits than I would have been.
Doug Dutton himself was standing in the courtyard, shaking hands, hugging longtime customers and
beaming, dressed as if he were on a '50s cruise ship. (Does Doug own any clothing darker than cream?) He'd been busy shutting the place down, he said, but wasn't feeling depressed. He doesn't have that in him, he said; he joked that he'd never be able to make it as a brooding writer.
Doug also mentioned that he was talking to "some interesting people," although he is still far from finding another home for a bookstore.
As I wandered the aisles, I remembered that some of my 2-year-old son's first books had come from Dutton's, and it was sweet to see a few mothers with babies still walking through the store. Someday those kids may be proud to say they saw the place in its final days.
I have a question, which I suspect may never be answered, because Doug may be too gracious to badmouth his longtime landlord, billionaire investor Charles Munger. But I'm still wondering, was this popular, nationally respected store for book lovers done in by a landlord reworking a space, or was it the wreckage of the deal for the satellite Dutton's in Beverly Hills? (Those town fathers approached Doug, let's not forget.) We may never know, but I'm still curious about what people are hearing.