The Last Bookstore in downtown Los Angeles is housed in a former bank. It’s got vaults converted into genre sections—Fantasy, Horror, Romance—and walls of books arranged by color, so if you squint it looks like you’re inside a kaleidoscope. The store is famous for its book architecture, for the “archway of books” you can walk under. St. Louis is jealous.
I live a few blocks away from the Last Bookstore and take friends who come to visit, and they’re always impressed by the size and scope of a place that sounds like the dying breath of a dying industry (which it is and isn’t). And so my friends buy a used book or a new book to support the cause, and because they mean to read more, and because they need something to remember the day by besides pictures on their phone that will struggle—and fail, and fail—to catch their attention later.
The Last Bookstore is an ironic name in a country with thousands of bookstores. It opened in 2010, thirteen years after I wrote an article for a Bay Area newsletter about the death of independent bookstores in the age of Borders and Barnes & Noble, after the great local indies I’d had in mind, Cody’s and A Clean Well-lighted Place for Books and Stacey’s, went out of business, after I found thriving bookstores in my subsequent cities like Prairie Lights in Iowa City, Faulkner Books in New Orleans, and Joseph Fox Books in Philadelphia, after Amazon foretold the end of independent bookstores and Borders declared bankruptcy and Ann Patchett became a bookseller in Nashville and Larry McMurtry stopped being a bookseller in Archer City.
The Last Bookstore is in downtown Los Angeles, a part of the city that’s either the greatest urban reclamation success story ever or a doomed speculative experiment. Either way, the Last Bookstore redeems what’s just outside its doors, from the forest of glass skyscrapers rising on every block to the acute homelessness crisis roiling in and spilling out of Skid Row. It suggests that in a place of radical flux, and downtown LA is in radical flux and America is in radical flux and the world is in radical flux, it’s possible to be still and read and give pleasure to others and receive pleasure from others. Banks are repositories of wealth. Bookstores are repositories of wealth, plus wisdom, humor, delight, terror, information, beauty, and human capital.
Go there. It’s not yet too late.
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