Six years after Book Soup founder Glenn Goldman’s death, his iconic bookstore on Los Angeles’s Sunset Strip is getting ready to celebrate its 40th birthday over the June 12–14 weekend. Although many things about Book Soup are unchanged, the store now boasts a renovated newsstand and two newly opened locations at LAX, one in Terminal 7 and the other in the new international terminal.
Book Soup is now owned and operated by another Southern California institution, Vroman’s Bookstore, which has two locations in Pasadena. But Vroman’s president and CEO, Allison Hill, has made an effort to keep the two stores distinct, and they serve very different customers. The 2,800-sq.-ft. Book Soup—featuring towering bookcases, hardwood floors, narrow aisles, and artistic touches reminiscent of the 1889 World’s Fair in Paris—draws members of the Hollywood film industry, artists, and celebrities. Shoppers such as Elton John, whom Hill refers to as “our patron saint,” spend as much as $10,000 on a single visit.
“Glenn and I had conversations about the future of the store before he passed, about what he wanted,” Hill said, who had worked as a general manager of Book Soup for almost seven years before leaving for Vroman’s. “Glenn created this magical place, and it just could not go away.”
Hill and many devoted Book Soup staffers worked hard to make the transition to Vroman’s ownership in late 2009 seamless. Many of the changes were confined to the back office. Accounting was an obvious example, and Vroman’s CFO, Clark Mason, who had previously worked as Goldman’s bookkeeper, supervises the accounting office for both stores. But book buying was a little trickier. On
paper, combining the buying function made financial sense, Hill said, but she worried about what might get lost. In the end, Sherri Gallentine, the longtime head book buyer for Vroman’s, took over buying for both stores. “During that first year, the buying team at Vroman’s was committed to making it work,” Hill said. Gallentine spent a lot of time at Book Soup during the transition and now has an office there, where she works one day a week. The Book Soup staff keep her informed of titles doing well at their store, such as David Lynch’s Distorted Nudes, John Maloof’s Vivian Maier, and Sebastião Salgado’s two-volume Genesis, a collector’s edition that retails for $4,000.
The promotions department was overhauled, too. Jennifer Ramos, who is the promotional director at Vroman’s and held a similar position at Book Soup, now oversees both stores. “That was something we did not want to do, because I felt it would be too much for one person,” Hill said. Each store hosts about 30 monthly events. “But Jen was happy to take it on. She really knows Book Soup and hired an assistant promotions director at each store. It’s worked out really well.”
With back-office operations in place and the Sunset Strip undergoing a renaissance—a fashionable restaurant is opening next door to Book Soup, and Guitar Center is putting its showroom across the street, where Tower Records once stood—Book Soup is well positioned as it moves into its fifth decade. And it has continued to maintain Goldman’s vision of a space dedicated to creative people in L.A. “Glenn loved books. He defined us. So many people stepped up to the plate to make this work because they cared—and after 40 years still care—about Book Soup,” said Hill.
Hill acknowledged that sales were generally flat the first few years after Vroman’s took over Book Soup, due to the recession and other factors, but sales have increased annually each of the last few years, and profit has significantly improved along the way. The store’s fortunes have improved enough that several people came forward this year to nominate Book Soup for the PW Bookstore of the Year Award. “There is something so simultaneously cozy and glamorous about this little oasis crammed with my favorite novels signed by my favorite authors, and with the most beautiful, sexy fine art and design books on the market,” novelist Francesca Lia Block wrote. “And you never know what famous and infamous film or literary celebrities you might run into.”