Monday, April 20, 2009

Closing the book

The other day at my lunch break I decided I wanted to buy a book, so I went up to Santa Monica's Third Street Promenade - it was a short walk, and it was a beautiful day.

There's only one bookstore on the Promenade today. It's the big national chain starting with "B."

As I walked from Broadway to Wilshire Boulevard, I saw something I had never noticed before, though I've been coming down here for over ten years.

The buildings on the Promenade are an eclectic mixture. Some are new and architecturally edgy. Some are old, dating from the early 20th century, and nicely restored. Others are brand new buildings with brand new applied decor that pretends to be old.

This building appears to be old, faced with the tan bricks common to local retail buildings of the 1920s. I just happened to look up at the facade

and saw this. A band of carved stone decoration, running across the front of the building. But instead of being classical motifs or a floral garland, it was a shelf of books.

And then I remembered. This building used to be the home of Midnight Special Bookstore, which moved to the Promenade in the 1970's. An independent bookstore, vocally left-wing, politically active, but also fully stocked with all kinds of literature, fiction, and childrens' books. It was always busy, full of browsers. It was open late at night, too. They'd often host readings by authors. In 2003 Midnight Special closed. The landlord had raised the rent. High-demand locations like the Promenade were demanding rents that major corporate chain stores were happy to pay, but small independent businesses couldn't.

The owners tried to find another location nearby, but it was the end. They never reopened.

I remember when you could choose to buy a book from at least five booksellers on the 3rd Street Promenade. In addition to the big national chain starting with a "B," there was Midnight Special; also Rizzoli Books, where you could browse beautiful and expensive art books; also an architectural bookstore.

Oh, yes, and there was that other big national chain starting with a "B," too - it just closed this winter.

On the Third Street Promenade you can find anything you can find in any other shopping mall anywhere else in the country. There's Victoria's Secret, Pottery Barn, Gap, Abercrombie & Fitch, Banana Republic, J.Crew, Old Navy, Urban Outfitters, Guess, Restoration Hardware, Esprit.

But if you want to browse for a good novel or a mystery, you have only one choice.

Here's what moved into the site of the old Midnight Special Bookstore. I can't believe I never noticed the frieze of books before. I wonder how many other people notice it now, and wonder why it's there.


blognut said...

Isn't it kind of sad when the small, specialized retailers disappear in favor of the big chains?

cactus petunia said...

Portland still has a few independent booksellers left. In fact, Portlanders enthusiastically support them.

Read this post from a friend of mine's blog about his mom's bookstore.

Gilly said...

That is one lovely frontage! Sort of Art Deco. I always find the roofs and upper stories of shops much more interesting - and the backs are usually MUCH more so. thehy reallhy tell you the age of the buildings. Our "High Street" has buildings dating back to the early 29th Century, and there are one or two houses around that are even earlier!

But we do have a good bookshop!

Martha said...

I love the books on the building. KC has one very successful independent bookstore -- she's stayed afloat against the "big boys" by hosting author events -- And she brings in the authors that people want to see -- and to see the authors you have to buy a book from her! Smart marketing!

I've always loved bookstores and libraries. They are a treasure trove!

Anonymous said...

The frieze of books is beautifully done - and so is your story.

So how do you change a bleeding heart blossom into "lady in a bathtub?"

Queenly Things said...

Homogenizing Main Street. I hope and pray they stop soon. I want to go to a town and like it (or not) for it's uniqueness. Our "B" bookstore is in an old theater the kind that had balcony seating and a huge lobby.

Unknown said...

Very sad. I try to go to small independant book stores whenever I need a book. I have been trying to save money lately so we utilize our library constantly.

I am so glad that beautiful border of books remain on the building.

180360 said...

That is really awesome. I love buildings with special touches - something that many people might miss at a quick glance.