June 16, 2011

The Last Bookstore says what the hell, let’s expand another 9,000 square feet


“New bookstore, “downtown Los Angeles,” “10,000 square feet”–all words that probably ought not to exist in the same sentence without the word “closing” lodged in there somewhere. And yet…

There it is.

According to an article in yesterday’s Los Angeles Times by Carolyn Kellogg, the fact that this unlikely event is happening is pretty typical for The Last Bookstore owner Josh Spencer.

“I haven’t really interacted with other business owners or bookstore owners,” Spencer told Kellogg. ”I’ve always just done what I do, and it seems to work.”

The opening of the new space is really more of an evolution for The Last Bookstore. Having grown out of its old, 1,000-square-ft. space on Main Street, the move appears to be part of a natural progression. ”We sold more books here in the first three days than we did in an entire month at our last location,” Spencer said.

But as Kellogg notes, what Spencer is doing is pretty mind boggling when you consider what’s happening to the book business in LA and everywhere else:

This month, two longtime Southern California bookstores — one in Laguna Beach and another in Pacific Palisades — announced they’ll be closing, and Metropolis Books in downtown L.A. was put up for sale by its owner. In February, Borders filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, closing hundreds of stores nationwide. After waves of closures, many have wondered if brick-and-mortar bookstores can survive Amazon and e-books.

Even though the bloodletting at Borders has ebbed somewhat, as this Publishers Weekly report details they’re still on target to close 40 more stores in addition to the hundreds of stores they’ve already closed this year. So it would seem that the book-selling ecosystem is one to bet against, not double down on.

But Spencer’s view typifies something a big corporate retailer can’t quantify, much less justify to shareholders: ”I think books are going to become sort of like vinyl is now: the province of people who appreciate things that are well made, appreciate craft in graphics and creativity they can feel.”

Besides, The Last Bookstore has benefited materially from the current environment, as many of their shelves came from a Borders that closed nearby. Says Spencer, ”We scavenged the bones of the corporate giant.”