The Last Bookstore: LA's Blast From The Past
Humans have a strange fascination with the concept of being “last.” We document our last words, fear our last moments, and care for items, animals, and sentiments that are the last of their kind. It seems so melancholy and sobering to think… this is the last time we will ever see each other; the last time we’ll visit this street, this town, or this Country. Increasingly relevant is Barack Obama’s last few moments in the White House. Whether you’re for him or against him, it’s hard to watch as he and his wife deliver their last tearful speeches as they savor the fleeting responsibilities of his presidency. It's the end of an era!
I suppose that's why the Last Bookstore in LA is still standing, if not flourishing, amidst the age of technology. The Last Bookstore states that “The name was chosen with irony, but seems more appropriate with each passing day as physical bookstores die out like dinosaurs from the meteoric impact of Amazon and e-books.” It’s a sad but true fact. Camelot Books, the epitome of the quaint bookstore, recently announced that they are going out of business. As if to add fuel to the flame, I've been hearing rumors that the mega-store Barnes and Nobles' won’t be sticking around much longer.
But despite all odds, in 2005, Josh Spencer decided that he would direct his incredible sales and marketing talent towards something he was passionate about: Books. Over the years, and after three different remodels, The Last Bookstore has grown to be the largest bookstore in California. It has amassed over 250,000 books, and takes up 22,000 sq. ft.
Frankly, having an independently owned 22,000 sq. ft. space in downtown LA is a feat in itself, but what makes this bookstore special is it’s character. On an average day, this dusty old shop is brimming with hundreds of people. There is a baggage check in the front (so you don’t go stealing Moby Dick and your favorite Brian Eno album), and a crowd so large surrounding the doorway that you have to shimmy through. But, as soon as you dance around the bustle and step inside, all of the stress is immediately worth it.
The Last Bookstore is a reader's paradise! The ambiance is brilliantly creaky, dusty, and disheveled... like any legitimate bookstore should be. There are wooden shelves proudly showcasing books of all shapes and sizes that loom over tables featuring hand-picked collections and favorites. But, if you venture above the bottom floor you will find a literal labyrinth of literature, sculptures, and adventure.
The never-ending trek to uncover every secret in the Last Bookstore brought Andrew and I to a dark, musty room with books so old they didn’t have a publication date. We marched up the stairs to find an artist's rendition of a typewriter spurting out thousands of pages which all swirled and dove above out heads. We hobbled under a tunnel of old books that towered over us like a mountain, and giggled at the many mannequins with increasingly odd alterations. Each genre had a specific place with a sign pointing in it’s direction, and the horror genre even had it’s own room! Now, I’m not superstitious or anything, but two books toppled over without being provoked during our visit… the latter inside of the horror room. The people browsing besides me laughed nervously as we exchanged glances. Totally not superstitious.
Last but not least (obviously… if we’ve learned one thing today it’s that last is inherently not least), The Last Bookstore acts as a host to art studios. It was such a surprise to walk upstairs and see what resembled a tiny art gallery. There were three talented artists sitting inside their cubbies while their art hung outside for everyone to see. You are able to talk with them, buy their art, and even discover unique art supplies, like the multi-colored yarn in the photo above.
These are the modern spins that keep this bookstore populated, day and night. It certainly wasn’t sheer luck. The Last Bookstore has become something of a tourist destination, with it’s awe-inspiring collection of books, records, and art, not to mention it’s fabulous community, beloved atmosphere, and it’s ever-growing legacy. I suppose this is also why we are forced to love LA. Despite it’s gross inability to keep clean, traffic free, and non-violent, it has the best darn collection of culture and art that Southern California has to offer.
I’d like to end with the last words of Richard Feynman: physicist, musician, author, and traveler. He passed away in LA, 1988.
“This dying is boring.”
So let’s not do it. Viva La Last Bookstore.