Despite the recession's dampening effect on sales in much of the country, the outlook in southern California is sunny for two long-time retailers. Twenty-eight-year-old Book Soup, "bookseller to the great and infamous" on Los Angeles's famed Sunset Strip, expanded to a second location at South Coast Plaza in Costa Mesa last fall; in January, centenarian Vroman's Bookstore opened Vroman's Fine Writing, Gifts, and Stationery, just two doors down from its main store.
When the former Rizzoli space at Orange County's most upscale mall, or "shopping street," became available last summer, it was an opportunity Book Soup proprietor and buyer Glenn Goldman just couldn't refuse. "The circumstances that allowed me to do it were extraordinary," Goldman told PW. "The sale of an investment left me with a lot of cash, and I thought it was important to offer greater opportunities to the people who work for me in management."
Goldman turned to architect Gene Gordon, who designed the 3,600-square-foot Sunset Strip store in 1975, to work with him on the new one. "He got rid of the stuffiness," said general manager Allison Hill, "and gave it a whimsical, more modern, updated feel." At 4,000 square feet, the Costa Mesa store is slightly larger than the main one, which is crammed from floor to ceiling with books, 60,000 titles' worth. "Initially," said Goldman, "we built the new store's inventory around the existing database." The Sunset Strip store specializes in books on art, photography, film and music, and did particularly well this past Christmas with St. Martin's rep and former employee Mike Slack's photo collection, Ok Ok Ok (J and L Pub.). Given the new store's location next to Versace and across from Godiva, "obviously the fashion section and lifestyle books do extremely well," said Goldman. Other strong areas are interior design, cooking, travel and children's.
Book Soup has long had an extensive schedule of author events, about 200 a year, and Goldman would like an equally packed events calendar at Costa Mesa. Although the two stores have a different client base, there is some event crossover with big names like Carol Channing, who drew huge crowds at both stores earlier this year. To help convince shoppers that the new store is the place to be, Goldman plans to add a coffee bar this spring.
Good News & Bad News
In the case of 109-year-old Vroman's, the new year brought both good news and bad. In the same week that it opened its 3,700-square-foot stationery store, it closed its three-year-old 10,000-square-foot bargain book store. The latter, according to v-p/general manager Karen Watkins, was doomed almost from the time the lease was signed. "Way before we even had everything done at that location, the neighborhood downgraded a lot," she said. "The disappointing reality of that store is that in 300 square feet at our main store, we were producing more dollars per day than at our bargain bookstore." In preparation for the closing, Vroman's let the number of booksellers at the bargain store dwindle to six, all of whom were offered jobs at other locations. In addition, the main store absorbed most of the fixtures from the bargain books location.
Devoting the new store entirely to sidelines—pens, stationery and printing services—was a logical decision for Vroman's owners. When photographer Adam Clark Vroman founded the store in 1894, it stocked books, stationery and photography equipment. Vroman's no longer carries cameras, but has a strong art and photography book section, among others.
Vroman's moved to its present location in 1954 and nearly doubled in space to 33,000 square feet and 120,000 titles in inventory seven years ago. Although the bargain book store didn't work out, its other satellite location, a 7,000-square-foot bookstore in the Hastings Ranch section of Pasadena, is thriving. The store, which celebrated its first anniversary in October, "has done better than our best-case scenario," noted Watkins, who continues to be on the outlook for new locations. "We're highly sought after," said Watkins. "It's rare that a week or two doesn't go by when we don't get a call. We obviously have to be very careful. We've had one failed store at this point."