Standing its ground

The Last Bookstore in downtown Los Angeles, US, is a bookstore with a difference, where books share the space with activities

Standing its ground

This may not be the best of times for traditional bookstores made of brick and mortar, with e-books (like Amazon‘s Kindle) elbowing them out or reading habits changing with many book lovers turning to an electronic version on their computer, tablet, iPad or even smartphone, e.g. Glose, a social reading platform for a collective experience.

So it is time bookstore owners began thinking out-of-the box to survive. Josh Spencer of The Last Bookstore in downtown Los Angeles, US, did just that.

True to its name, the bookstore resolutely stands its ground.

Sadly, and even surprisingly though, this very unusual bookstore that made it to the 2013 Flavorwire’s list of the 20 most beautiful bookstores in the world is known to a few.

Once you enter the store, it’s like you’re transported into another world and it’s designed in a way that makes you fall in love with it over and over again. For one, it’s massive. The ceiling is high and the stately marble pillars in the main hall give it a somewhat regal and old-time ambience. There are reading rooms that are made out of vaults lined with bookshelves and a decor that is whimsical. The used books they can’t resell have become the raw material for sculptures.

A walk through tunnel is made of books, and the sales counter is supported by walls made of books -- real books! You probably would never have encountered a bookstore quite like this one.

The owner, Josh Spencer, wanted to channel all his energy into the look and feel of the store and took to it as an art project.

A couple of young students visiting the store for the first time said they were left in complete awe. "It was magical! The light there was perfect and the place had an inviting, warm and comforting air to it," said one referring to people sitting around in worn out couches busy reading. "I want to be a part of this community," she added.

Her friend said she liked the "musty" smell. "It felt like I was entering a different world, where everything felt much more slowed down; the possibilities of imagination felt endless."


Spencer, an aspiring writer, was making a living selling everything from cars to clothes online but he wanted to open up an old-fashioned bookstore dealing in old (even vintage books that had long been stopped being printed), used and new titles. He was also sure he wanted this business to be non-digital.

The bookstore was first opened in 2005 on a loft. It was when it moved into its present space in 2011 with 15,000 square feet of some 200,000 books on two floors, that it became enchanting.

In addition, there are tens of thousands of vinyl records and oddities. You will find an eclectic collection -- everything from classics, to politics, to biographies to the pulpiest of pulp fiction -- just about everything for everyone, even a children’s section. For a bibliophile on a limited budget, there are some 100,000 books for a dollar each on the second floor to choose from. There is a sci-fi section and the horror and crime section is in a walk-in vault. There is a section of used hardbacks arranged and organised strangely, not by genres, but by colour -- red, green, blue, black, white etc.

The second floor also has a bohemian art gallery with shops run by local artists. There was one artist who was covering her shop floor with pennies. "It was so cool; she had bought 300 dollars worth of pennies and it had not covered even half the floor, so now she took donations too; I gave her some as well," said the college student. For her, this artist’s endeavour had become more of a community project with others contributing to it.

It is a bookstore with a difference. The books share the space with activities. For example, it hosts literary gatherings, book launches and musical evenings; it actually engages with its customers. Last year, it served as a backdrop for a fashion shoot in the latest issue of Esquire.

And, perhaps, it is these events of coming up with new ways of fostering a relationship with the people rather than waiting for them to come in that bookstores as well as the closing down of bookstore chains that may have given the indies in the US a shot in the arm. Between 2000 and 2007, according to the American Bookseller Association, some 1,000 such bookstores went out of business, but the numbers have risen since 2009. Independents hold 10 per cent of the market now.





Standing its ground