Brown Can't Save Bookstores

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This is Kevin Roderick with LA Observed for KCRW.

By now you probably know that Jerry Brown took the oath of office earlier today and is the governor of California. Again.

That's only relevant here because, the first time he became governor -- 36 years ago -- Los Angeles was a much different place.

That's so obvious, of course, as to be not very informative. But one way that LA has changed since 1974 has been on my mind the last few days.

Back then, the big chain bookstores had not yet taken over. Borders was a local store in Ann Arbor, Michigan. There was no Barnes & Noble in LA yet either.

The national giants didn't start killing off LA's small bookstores until later.

Once they got here, they did a through job of it. And as we now know, that transformation has been relatively short-lived.

The local stores like Dutton's and Dawsons Books are still gone, most of them. And now the big guys are fading away too, leaving holes this week in at least two LA neighborhoods.

In Encino, the Barnes & Noble store on Ventura Boulevard closed just before New Years. It had a popular Starbucks attached to it and always seemed like a busy hangout.

It didn't have enough business though to withstand a rent increase by the property's owner, who just happens to be the likely candidate for mayor, Rick Caruso.

He had a new tenant all lined up: another CVS, one of about a dozen pharmacies nearby.

Some residents of Encino tried to target Caruso with a campaign to save the bookstore. Barnes & Noble said it wanted to stay.

But the economics of selling books no longer allow for the kind of rents that a drug store will pay to keep the affluent residents of Encino supplied with Vicodin and Flonase.

The closure of a bookstore hits communities in different ways.

While Encino is mourning, there's less complaint over the pending closure of the Borders store on Westwood Boulevard, in the area sometimes called Little Tehran.

It's the last general bookstore in Westwood. But the most pained reaction seems to be coming from Borders' employees.

A 12-year veteran of Borders explained to the LA Weekly that she and many of her coworkers fall into the upper lower-class.

You know the kind. Able to get by in LA with a roommate or a working spouse, usually without car -- or a safety net.

Most of her colleagues, she said, are introverted and bookish, which makes it harder to find a new job.

The most painful part for them is that Angelenos -- and all Americans -- are buying more books. That is, they're buying more e-books.

Back when Jerry Brown first became governor, the personal computer had not yet been invented. There was no

There's nothing he can do, or should do, to save bookstores from the Kindle and the iPad. Stores of the future will have to adapt, and quickly.

But we all can be sympathetic to the book nerds who work in stores, and to our neighbors who lose a cherished piece of their communities.

And next Christmas, spend a little more money on books we can actually hold.

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