For over a decade, pundits have been predicting the end of the brick and mortar bookstore, as big box behemoths like Borders and small independent shops alike have been laid low by online retailers. In the midst of this seemingly hostile climate, The Last Bookstore opened in a downtown LA loft in 2005, before moving to its current location, a 20,000 square foot former bank, in 2011. With over 250,000 books, it is the largest used and new book and record store in California, and it just got bigger.
Last Thursday, The Last Bookstore quietly opened an Arts and Rare Book Annex next to their cavernous main space. When CB1 Gallery, which had previously occupied the location, moved to S. Santa Fe Avenue earlier this year, Last Bookstore owner Josh Spencer decided to take it over. According to Manuel Chivarria, one of the Annex’s new supervisors, this provided an opportunity to upgrade their much neglected art section, which was crammed into shelves that made it difficult to maintain and susceptible to theft. The light-filled Annex showcases a wide selection of mostly new art, architecture, photo, and design books, alongside a modest used bargain section. Display cases house a selection of rare and vintage books of all kinds, from a signed first edition Game of Thrones hardback to a limited edition Jean Dubuffet artist book.
Although we stopped by on only the Annex’s second day, Chivarria told us the public’s response had been very positive. While the Westside has two excellent new and used art bookstores — Hennessey + Ingalls in Santa Monica and Arcana in Culver City — and Mid-Wilshire has the independent Art Catalogues at LACMA, the only other art bookstore downtown was at MOCA, making the Annex a welcome addition. “The Last Bookstore has been a cultural hub for downtown,” Chivarria told us, “and for it to extend into the Annex is great. It’s kind of filling a void.”
Despite the doom and gloom prognostications, the Last Bookstore’s expansion may not be all that surprising after all. The American Booksellers Association, composed of independent bookstores, reported that its membership had actually increased from 1400 in 2009 to 1664 in 2014. The Triangle Business Journal attributed this to the demise of big box stores, as well as an increased emphasis on shopping locally. The LA Art Book Fair debuted in 2013, and had its third successful event this year, drawing thousands of people and proving that yes, Angelenos and books do mix.
Instead of taking an adversarial approach to the internet, the Annex has both an Ebay and an Amazon store, working with new sales platforms rather than against them. Still, there are benefits to a physical space — especially when it comes to art books — that can’t be easily replicated in the virtual world. “People still want a place to go,” said Chivarria.
also by Matt Stromberg
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