Four New Independent L.A. Bookstores to Shop and Support Now
There’s a rich, storied history of independent bookstores in Southern California, from Pasadena’s Vroman’s to Chevalier’s Books in Larchmont Village (which has welcomed everyone from Howard Hughes to Aldous Huxley and Nat King Cole through its doors, which first opened in 1940).
Now, as some consumers tire of buying books online from faceless corporations, a new generation of community-focused shops is sprouting up throughout Los Angeles – giving life to writers and readers across different neighborhoods.
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In Pasadena, there’s Octavia’s Bookshelf; in Highland Park, North Figueroa Bookshop; in Mid-City, Palm Grove Social; in Santa Monica, Zibby’s Bookshop. All serving vastly different audiences with unique and carefully curated stock, LA’s indie bookstore movement is a reminder that print isn’t quite dead.
NORTH FIGUEROA BOOKSHOP
Founded by independent book publishers Tyson Cornell (Rare Bird) and Chris Heiser (Unnamed Press), the store opened in 2022 in Highland Park, which manager Mads Gobbo describes as “a super literary neighborhood.”
“I’ve noticed that our customers are very well-read. They’ve read all the mainstream stuff. So the things that are at the top of The New York Times best-seller list are not the things that are really selling well for us,” Gobbo tells THR. “Actually, I think people are discovering a lot of backlist, older titles in our shelves. L.A. classics like City of Quartz are definitely up at the top for us.”
Cornell and Heiser, both local NELA residents, were yearning for a place they could frequent that housed the sorts of books they were attracted to as readers and publishers. “We just felt that the area was deprived of a proper independent bookstore,” Cornell says. “[And] before we became publishers, we were independent booksellers. We missed that environment and lifestyle; of course, we love shopping at the great bookstores in the area, but we also wanted a place of our own to hang out in and just get out of the publishing bubble.”
There are roughly 3,000 titles in the store, and 10 to 15 percent of those titles are from the bookshop’s four partner publishers: Rare Bird, Unnamed Press, Grove Atlantic and MCD Books. But the general interest selection has been carefully curated by Gobbo and the team of other booksellers. “We really went hard on our California literature section; we have both fiction and nonfiction in there — just kind of an overview of all of the great work that’s come out from and about our state,” Gobbo says. There are also notable translated literature, children’s, and comics/manga sections. “We’ve been building out our local authors section, which has been pretty hyper-local. It’s been a lot of folks directly from the neighborhood, who live a few blocks away, who have poetry, chapbooks, zines, children’s books or unclassifiable works of literature.”
Gobbo served as Skylight Books’ former events manager, so programming is baked into the store’s infrastructure, too. These community events are “a little bit outside of the realm of a traditional book event,” she says, like a love letter writing workshop for Valentine’s Day, and a tarot card collaging experience.
“What I like about the programming that’s happening here at the store is that it’s topically driven, and it’s community driven. It isn’t just about what new book is on the market,” Cornell says. 6040 N. Figueroa St.
PALM GROVE SOCIAL
Since 2022, this hybrid café, bookshop and art gallery in Mid-City, a rapidly growing destination for Los Angeles’ creative community, has hosted book signings and mounted solo art exhibits. Says Palm Grove and Cast Partner founder Ben Sealey: “We’re kind of leaning into shows that tie-in with book signings [and] the idea of having books curated was always tied into the café.” And since the space also houses Cast Partner, a casting consultancy that often holds live castings there, “we have all types of people coming to our building all the time,” says Sealey.
The space features an outdoor patio, which can be rented for events, and a strong coffee program. “The idea of having fantastic coffee connected to art and books and music and culture, and a location where people can come and sit and relax and hang out with no pressure, is very attractive to us,” Sealey says.
Recently, the creative hub hosted a solo exhibition surrounding the release of Los Angeles-based multidisciplinary artist Jester Bulnes’ self-published, debut photo book DENTRO, and showed British photographer Laura McCluskey’s Ray 001: Moroccan Light in partnership with London-based publishing house Guest Editions.
“We’ve ended up with a very deep, broad community — in Los Angeles, across the U.S., and the world really,” he adds. “I’m in love with L.A., and I always have been. The idea of [Palm Grove Social] is being able to have a space that could support my vision of being able to have events that are inclusive of all, and not invite-only or VIP-based, and supporting [creatives] that way.” 4660 W. Washington Blvd.
Named for the celebrated science-fiction author Octavia Butler, this bookstore in Pasadena (the late writer’s hometown) was founded by another Pasadena local, Nikki High. “I became sort of obsessed with Octavia Butler when I first read Kindred and I was around 16 or 17 [years old],” High tells THR. “I wanted to honor our hometown legend by naming the store after her because I just felt like she was so ahead of her time [and] she was so courageous.”
The success of Octavia’s Bookshelf has been swift and sustained since it opened this past February; ahead of her opening weekend roughly 10 weeks ago, High’s inventory was 4,000 books deep. After two days, she barely had 100 left. “I sell out of [Butler’s] books like, every two days,” High shares. Titles by bell hooks, Toni Morrison, Langston Hughes, James Baldwin and Zora Neale Hurston have proven popular too.
“Pasadena has such a huge reading community,” High says. “It’s weird because I know of all the bookish spaces in Pasadena. And I have enjoyed a lot of time in those spaces. But I was always really craving someplace where I could find books authored by BIPOC writers more easily.” To satisfy this need, High (an avid reader and former corporate marketer for Trader Joe’s) used to travel into Los Angeles to visit Leimert Park’s Black-owned, independent, Eso Won Bookstore before it closed after more than three decades late last year.
High’s customers are often reaching for her curated selection of cookbooks, adult romance and young adult titles, along with “books about healing,” she says.
“I think the other piece that’s been so fulfilling for me is people coming in saying, ‘Hey, I want to be a better ally. Can you help point me in this direction?’ and being able to help people select books with the goal of educating them, but also maybe challenging their biases.” 1361 N. Hill Ave.
An outgrowth of author and entrepreneur Zibby Owens’ popular podcast, Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books, Zibby’s Bookshop is a new destination in Santa Monica that carries books for children and adults.
“I’ve wanted to open a bookstore forever,” Owens tells THR. “But it was always just a dream.”
In 2020, when she was first looking for a space to realize this dream in New York City (where she’s based, though her family also spends time at their Pacific Palisades home), “it just didn’t feel like the right fit or the right time,” Owens says. But when an Amazon bookstore in Palisades Village closed down, she felt it was time for her to fill that gap on the Westside. “I felt like there are already so many great bookstores in New York City, and the distance between them is so small, that opening a new one wasn’t really serving an unmet need. Whereas opening a bookstore in Santa Monica … that would really give the community something that they needed and had been missing.”
At Zibby’s Bookshop, there’s a daily story time for kids as well as three to five book signings and author interviews per week. Recently, Katherine Schwarzenegger Pratt visited for a storytime reading of her picture book, Good Night, Sister.
The bookshelves are curated by Owens (who is a regular contributor to Good Morning America) and her team, and are arranged by interest area: the music lover, the knowledge hunter, even shelves based on an emotion. “My taste probably mirrors our criteria for selecting books for the publishing company, which is books that have a strong sense of voice and place, propulsive narratives, and beautiful writing,” Owens says, adding: “I don’t read by genre; I read based on the author, or the story.”
The bookfluencer’s literary ecosystem now includes a publishing house called Zibby Books, a publication called Zibby Mag, podcast network Zibby Audio, education platform Zibby Classes, and various community events.
“We’ve actually exceeded all of our expectations. We’re almost double what our weekly sales projections are each week, our foot traffic is probably three times what we expected it to be,” the founder shares. And in terms of the bookstore’s Hollywood connection? “They’re going to come mine our content,” Owens says. “It’s really storytelling that unites film, TV, and books.” 1113 Santa Monica Blvd.
A version of this story first appeared in the May 10 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.
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