Interview with a Bookstore: The Last Bookstore
Reading for the end of the world
Before L.A.’s the Last Bookstore opened its first brick-and-mortar store in December 2009, the staff sold used books online, out of owners’ Josh and Heidi Spencer’s home. In June 2011, the team moved to their current location in a former bank building. The goal was to create a bookstore that would contain a collection of what Josh would want to find in “the last bookstore on earth.”
What’s your favorite section in the store?
Katie: I give Kids and YA most of my attention and care, but I get caught up in the poetry section and English history as a browser.
Allan: Movie section.
Zach: The graphic novel section, “Dungeon Dungeon.”
If you had infinite space what would you add?
Katie: I’d love to devote more space to small presses and local authors. We’re also expanding our art section and collectible/rare books into their own annex, so it feels like we’ve got infinite space with this new addition.
Allan: Gifts, knick knacks, games, movies.
Darrell: More room for classic literature, modern fiction, esoteric literature, and local authors. I’d also like more installations.
What do you do better than any other bookstore?
Katie: Create an experience in visiting, I hope. We’ve got all the art installations and the neighboring art galleries, as well as having tons of books. I think we also do a good job of curating the mix of new and used, but it’s always a bit like playing catch up with whatever title no one wants to bring in to sell back but everyone wants to buy.
Lindsay: We have way more fun, and we’re better at knowing our inventory, since we don’t have a database.
Greg: Help people find a good book.
Allan: Our prices are better.
Who’s your weirdest regular?
Katie: We’re in downtown L.A., so that’s a tough contest. One of my standouts is a customer who likes to come in and read aloud books in languages she doesn’t speak. I’ll be shelving or looking for a book for a customer and hear Italian or Spanish coming from her as she sits and reads to the other customers, unbidden.
Allan: There’s a regular who comes in who is always hunting for CDs. I think he’s about the hunt, I don’t think he actually enjoys them.
What’s the craziest situation you’ve ever had to deal with in the store?
Katie: I had a man with very clear mental health issues come in and tell me all about the extremely valuable book he had in his briefcase. He threatened to punch me “through the chest” if I didn’t offer him at least $200 for a water-damaged golfer’s memoir from the mid 90s. Our security guards got him out. I’ve also had more than one older male customer refuse to listen to me or talk to me because I’m a woman.
Greg: We had a customer who had just come off an overnight shift at work, and fainted in our record section due to an insulin dip. He was diabetic, and we had to call an ambulance to come and take care of him. He was fine, after the paramedics gave him insulin, and continued to shop with his friend.
Teddy: There was a guy who ran into an ex while they were both in the store. She had a restraining order against him, and he had to wait in the store for the police to come and file a complaint against him for violating the restraining order.
What’s your earliest/best memory about visiting a bookstore as a child?
Katie: Is it ok if I go off book and talk about the library? My hometown library has a creek running through the lower level, and you have to use stepping stones or a little bridge to get to the children’s section. It was the most magical place in the world to me, and I wanted nothing more than to go to the library with my mom and look at books. It was the beginning of my lifelong obsession with books and reading. The first book I ever read on my own came from that library. I also loved Sundance Books, the independent in my hometown. I tried to collect every color of bookmark they had when I was a kid.
Teddy: I remember going to Children’s Book World with my mom as a kid, and my dad reading Tin Tin comics to me that we got from there.
If you weren’t running/working at a bookstore what would you be doing?
Katie: I don’t even know. I’d love to be writing for a living, but when I think about other “day jobs” I can’t think of anything I’d be as excited and passionate about as working with books. I could make more money, probably, doing something else, but I don’t think I’d care about answering phones or writing technical documents quite as much as I care about recommending a perfect book to someone.
Lindsay: Trying to get a job at this bookstore.
Darrell: Going to medical school.
What’s been the biggest surprise about running a bookstore?
Katie: When we first opened our little used-only bookstore, I thought I’d have time to read while at work. Ha! Having a small staff and plenty of used book buying, shelving, and sales to make shut down that idea quickly. As we’ve grown, my downtime has shrunk proportionally.
SLIDESHOW: The Last Bookstore Staff Recommendations