Our bookstore problem


    Marlene Adler Marks/Guest Columnist

    The problem is as simple as it is awful: Malibu has no bookstore. Crown is gone, as is our wonderful independent Books & Company. The nearest bookstores are Village Books, 10 miles away in the Palisades, and the new Calabasas Barnes & Noble, 15 miles over the hill. For a writer like me, with a new book to peddle, the lack is particularly devastating. It’s easier to find my book (which focuses on my life in Malibu, raising my daughter after my husband died) on New York’s Park Avenue than to find it at home. I’ve been lucky: Fran of Malibu Newsstand has stocked my book, and soon you’ll find it at SuperCare Drug. But let’s face it, that’s not a solution. For Malibu, a community inhabited by artists, writers, students (this is a college town!) and people who thrive on ideas, to have no book store is of course outrageous. This town could support a whole section of movie scripts and adaptations, let alone spirituality, cooking and nature trails. We all feel the lack, but week after week, it continues.

    So here’s a solution, and you can join in on it: A book store “cooperative,” not exactly a nonprofit, but one in which profit is not the point. A group of us are looking for investors now. A “co-op” makes sense because it accepts as unassailable the two competing market pressures that are now threatening independent booksellers everywhere: the rise of mega-stores like Barnes & Noble, and the prevalence of Amazon.com and other on-line bookstores. As a co-op, we would be committed to fiscal responsibility, but our first objective would be to keep alive a bookstore with sufficient volume (about 10,000 books) that captures that spirit of Malibu that neither Amazon.com nor Barnes & Noble can provide: a place close to home where books and ideas are shared.

    This week I spoke with Jeff Ridgeway, manager of the year-and-one-half old Village Books, who was previously manager of the dearly departed Crown Books of the Palisades. Village Books is only 1,000 square feet, one-quarter of the footage of the former Crown, and it’s doing fine, thank you, by creating exactly what we need here: a community-based bookstore catering to local needs for fiction, nonfiction and a general “place to be.” It has a well-stocked children’s section, hosts visiting and local authors, and holds events that even include performances by a local acting troupe.

    Village Books top fiction is the best-selling “Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood”; its nonfiction hits include local histories and street guides of the Santa Monica Canyon. Ridgeway does a lot of “hand-selling,” the personalized “you must read this” of his favorites, including the Library of America series (300 volumes sold).

    “The psychic rewards of a bookstore are great,” Ridgeway told me. “And if you work at it, you can make a living.” On this point, Doug Dutton of Dutton’s Books in Brentwood (guiding spirit of Los Angeles’ independent booksellers) was not so sure. “I never tell would-be booksellers when or if they will even break even,” Dutton told me. “The fact is, it’s not a lucrative business.” (Profit margin can be as low as 2 percent to 3 percent.) Dutton says the key to a successful bookstore is to establish “a personality,” “a vision” or “a uniformity of mission,” staffed by people who enjoy reading and regard books as crucial in their lives.

    Where shall we put this bookstore? High-volume traffic areas hold the key. With sufficient high-power backing, we might prevail upon Starbucks or Diedrich to let us build out to include space for our co-op bookstore. If we begin with a corner of an existing coffee house, eventually we could grow to a full-fledged store of our own. In today’s book market, coffee and books are already intrinsically linked (but a corner of the Wherehouse might do as well). Understanding that books are low profit margin, we can still provide a steady clientele of foot traffic and build community at the same time.

    If you are interested in helping, in investing or even in just reading, call The Malibu Times at 456-5507, extension 50, and leave a message with your name, address, telephone number and e-mail/fax. We’ll set up a meeting and let everyone know.

    Marlene Adler Marks is a syndicated newspaper columnist and author of three books, including the newly published “A Woman’s Voice: Reflections on Love, Death, Faith, Food & Family Life” (On The Way Press), available at Malibu Newsstand and SuperCare Drugs. Her email address is wmnsvoice@aol.com.