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June 7, 2016:

THE END OF AN ERA

Bruce Kimmel Photograph bk's notes

Well, dear readers, once upon a time Los Angeles and surrounding areas were an oasis of bookstores. They were everywhere, every shape and size, every kind. These were not Barnes and Nobles or Bookstars or anything like those behemoths that came and conquered. These were small shops, run by nice folks who – wait for it – loved books. That is why they had their shops. They loved books. When I was young there were the bigger stores like Martindale’s and Hunter’s in Beverly Hills and Pickwick in Hollywood, but it was the mom and pop used stores that I truly loved. Yes, I hung out at Hunter’s and Martindale’s and Pickwick (I even worked at Pickwick for a month), but I lived for the used stores. There were at least ten in Hollywood alone, either on Hollywood Blvd., or on side streets off the boulevard. There were two on Las Palmas, and several other side streets had them. I could walk the boulevard and spend all day in the five or six used stores there, including the wonderful Cherokee Books, and, of course, the original Larry Edmunds.

When my Darling Daughter was very young we would go on our drives every Saturday. We’d start our sojourns at ten in the morning and we would go to ten or fifteen bookstores, starting in the Valley, going to Long Beach, Orange County, coming back through downtown, and ending up in Little Tokyo for some food. She loved it – she’d go find the children’s section and look at all the books and I’d buy her some if she found ones she liked or wanted me to read her. Like record stores of that era, it was the shared experience that made it so special. The stores were filled with like-minded folks who loved books. The owners gabbed with you, asked you what you liked, and if you collected first editions as I did, they’d show you their magical treasures.

I made many friends at these bookstores. Westwood had about eight, too, and one, Vagabond Books, became a regular haunt for me. I got so much great stuff there – they were on Westwood Blvd. and they moved a couple of times and I’d follow wherever they went. And then came Crown. And Crown was a game changer. Crown discounted everything, didn’t care if they had loss leaders because they got people in their stores and mom-and-pops could never buy that kind of volume and get those kinds of discounts from publishers. I loathed Crown. Then B Dalton came and bought Pickwick and became a huge chain. Then the others followed and they were like piranhas eating each other. Barnes and Noble added tables and coffee and movies and people went and people forgot about their beloved mom and pop stores. If that wasn’t bad enough, the Internet came along and was an even bigger game changer. Amazon came and where once the behemoths had circled the mom and pops like sharks and gleefully watched as they put them all out of business, now Amazon was doing the same to the behemoths. People loved Amazon – why, you didn’t even have to leave your house. I love Amazon, don’t get me wrong. But the one thing I don’t love it for are books. I want to hold the book in my hands, I want to discover new titles as I peruse. But Amazon doesn’t address the used bookstore issue. One by one, all of my beloved used bookstores closed because they couldn’t afford the constantly rising rents anymore and they found their shelter on the ABE or eBay. But the shared experience? Gone.

One of the last remaining mom and pop stores, Mystery and Imagination Books, was thankfully still there for us. I found them when they were on Broadway in Glendale, and I loved the folks who ran it, Malcolm and Christine Bell, and I loved the atmosphere there and they always had great books in stock and behind their glass cases. At some point, they moved to Brand and had a great location just north of the Alex Theater. In the last few years, a lot of trendy little joints have moved in and you’d think that with all that trendy stuff that those people would have perhaps moseyed on over to Mystery and Imagination, if for no other reason than nostalgia. But no, the trendy types live inside their little boxes – so they go to Porto’s but can’t be bothered to look to the left or right of wherever they are.

In 2002, my first novel, Benjamin Kritzer, came out. It was a huge thing for me – I was so proud of the book and having written it. And I wanted to do a signing, and the first place I thought of was Mystery and Imagination, and they said yes and I became the first author to ever sign there. In the back where the stairs lead to a second floor, they had me sign the wall – the first author to do so. There are now hundreds of signatures there and sixteen of them are mine. They hosted author events, Ray Bradbury signed there often, and it was just the friendliest most wonderful place. Every time I finished a new book over the next sixteen years I knew the first signing would be at Mystery and Imagination. Our signings there were so much fun, with camaraderie and cake and a reading and stories.

But the store was struggling. It seemed that people almost willfully would not come. And yesterday the news came that they were shutting their doors and would be moving solely to the Internet and book fairs. It was like having a knife plunged into an artery. It is the true end of an era, until the hipsters figure out how stupid it was for all this to close, and suddenly it will be hip to have mom and pop bookstores again, just as it’s become hip to love vinyl again and mom and pop vinyl stores are suddenly popping and momming up all over the place. The loyal few will miss Mystery and Imagination because we knew what it represented, what it was the last of. Next year, I won’t be able to do my first signing there, and that won’t seem right. Then again, the world doesn’t seem right anymore. So, Malcolm and Christine will continue on the ABE and eBay and I’m sure they’ll do the LA book fairs. But the world of LA books has lost a special and magical store. I’m not sure when it will actually close for good, but they’re having a massive sale right now and if you have a heart and are in the neighborhood, go in there, but some books, take a look around, breathe in that rarefied atmosphere while it lasts.

Otherwise, yesterday was a serviceable day in which I just caught up with stuff. I picked up one package from Amazon that contained pepperoni sticks, which I used to love to buy at the convenience store but that I now have at my convenience house. Then I did some work on the computer, started compiling lists of songs for the next Kritzerland – we’re not doing July since it falls on the fourth, so we actually have eight weeks to put this one together. Then it was time to mosey on over to the Cicada Club downtown. I was expecting horrible traffic, but it was only bad for about two miles just before downtown – I mean I got past Vermont in seven minutes flat. I arrived at the club at six-thirty. I said hi to the students I knew, got a Diet Coke and then hung out with the head of the department. Just before dinner was served, he got up and made a little speech about giving awards out after dinner but that he wanted to give one set of awards out before dinner.

To my surprise and delight, he gave me one, for my creative contributions to the department and my loyalty and support for the students. I was extremely touched by it. Then he had me give out the nominees from our show for the American College Theatre Festival’s Irene Ryan acting awards – those three nominations went to Lamont Oakley, Kole Martin, and Elle Willgues, all of whom were present.

Dinner was okay – a little square of chicken in lemon sauce, a spoonful of pasta that was pretty good, some spinach, and a bite of salad. Then the main awards giving happened – lots of awards for excellence and good work were handed out to students of every level. Then there was a send-off/tribute to the lady who’s run the costume department for the last forty-two years, Diane Sisko. She’s a wonderful woman and it was fun to hear the tributes. My time at the school pre-dated her arrival, but she was there for every show I came back to direct. I said my goodbyes to folks and got out of there about ten-thirty, and came right home.

Today, I am going to my engineer’s house to hear some sample mixes and ascertain if we have to do one or two vocal fixes, where I can’t cover problems by flipping between the two shows we recorded. We’re not sure we’ll need to do any, but if we do that will probably happen at the school on Thursday and would only involve a handful of people. I’ve already heard one song with just the band mix, and thanks to replacing the horns, the sound of that is really exceptional. Then I’ll eat, I’ll hopefully pick up some packages, and then at seven I’ll tape a radio show with Donald Feltham.

Tomorrow I lunch with Richard Sherman, Thursday may be some vocal recording if necessary, Friday I’m seeing The Fantasticks in nearby North Hollywood, Saturday I’ll visit Mystery and Imagination Books, and Sunday I’m seeing Barry Pearl’s play.

Well, dear readers, I must take the day, I must do the things I do, I must, for example, hear some mixes, eat, hopefully pick up packages, and tape a radio show. Today’s topic of discussion: What are your favorite songs of The Beatles? Let’s have loads of lovely postings, shall we, whilst I hit the road to dreamland, as I mourn the soon to be loss of one of the last of the great mom and pop used bookstores, Mystery and Imagination.

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