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FROM THIS EPISODE

This is Kevin Roderick with LA Observed for KCRW.

I recently was invited to speak at the Geffen Playhouse to the Friends of the Westwood Library. I was struck by all the nostalgia I heard for bookstores that used to thrive in Westwood Village.

Yes, I know this will be hard for some listeners to accept. But Westwood Village, on the border of UCLA, actually used to resemble...a college town.

Bookstores were a big reason for that. The old timers threw around names of long vanished fixtures...Hunter's, Pickwick, B. Dalton, Crown.

At one time, they tell me, students and movie goers had a choice of a dozen book shops. Now there is just the Mystery Bookstore, tucked under a public parking garage on Broxton Avenue.

Of course it's not just Westwood. Dutton's and Wilshire Books, which closed this year, were both special places with loyal fans. Last year saw the shuttering of Heritage Books.

I never planned to whine about the decline of bookstores. It's frankly old news, and almost a cliché of punditry, like interviewing taxi drivers or ranting about changes in American society.

But then I read about the great writer Ray Bradbury's rant down in Long Beach.

He came out in his wheelchair to support Acres of Books, the big emporium of used books that is being forced to vacate its home for a city redevelopment project.

"I love this place!” he told the crowd that gathered, hanging on his words.

He described hanging around at Acres of Books as a young man, loving the smell of the stacks, especially when it rained.

There are ten million books here, he said. Those other bookstores with just a couple of thousand --- they just don't smell the same way.

Bradbury urged that instead of tearing down Acres of Books, Long Beach should build a shrine to the store. If they put up a crucifix, he vowed, he'll come back and bless the blankety blank thing.

Yeah, Bradbury at 87 is growing more colorful and less inhibited. But he gave us Farenheit 451 and The Martian Chronicles. And he appreciates a good bookshop, so we should forgive him a little color.

He railed against the lack of bookstores in Downtown LA, in Venice, in the Ocean Park section of Santa Monica.

And Beverly Hills! That got him going. How dumb can you get!, he roared. All those "stupid people" wandering around, looking for ideas. And no bookstore.

Last week Los Angeles lost its own landmark bookstore, the kind where book lovers enjoy just visiting for an hour, browsing and talking with knowledgeable sellers and other customers.

Dawson's, located on Larchmont Boulevard in Hancock Park adjacent, is LA's oldest bookstore. Or was.

Michael Dawson, whose family opened Downtown in 1905, emailed customers with the news that as of July 1, he'll only see them by appointment.

A clearance sale cleaned out most of the shelves. Dawson will continue as a dealer in rare books and photographs. And as a rep for selected contemporary photographers.

But no more drop ins to browse the obscure California history titles and maybe run into someone you know.

Luckily, the news is not all bad. The sublimely pleasant Skylight Books in Los Feliz is proving that a good independent with a favorable rent situation can thrive.

Skylight's actually expanding into the space next door.

Diesel Books is opening a branch in the Brentwood Country Mart.

There's even been talk that one of the big chains might -- just might -- come into Westwood Village. There's room, including a big open lot where the National Theater was recently demolished.

OK, so the second coming of Dutton's is unlikely. But even Barnes and Noble would be better than adding another Pinkberry or Starbucks.

For KCRW, this has been Kevin Roderick with LA Observed.

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