Mystery Bookstore Closing

Updated 1/19/11

Last week we got the news that the Mystery Bookstore in Westwood is closing on January 31. I am always sorry when I hear about an independent local business, especially a bookstore, closing, but this one hit me hard. It felt almost like a death, one that will take me a while to recover from.

I haven't said much about it since I heard the news, mostly because my life has been crazy for the past two weeks–so busy I haven't opened my laptop in over a week. But now that things have settled I have a chance to sit down and sort out my feelings. Except that's easier said than done.

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Talking with Kelli Stanley & Eric Beetner

Besides the initial shock and obvious sadness, I am left with a lingering anger and a tinge of resentment. But at what? Certainly not the Mystery Bookstore. They did everything they possibly could to boost sales and promote books. The community? Well, maybe a little. The Mystery Bookstore has a newsletter subscriber list of about 5000. If each of those subscribers ordered just one to three books from the store each year rather than taking the newsletter book recommendations and buying elsewhere, the Mystery Bookstore could probably stay in business.

The point isn't to flog those who make different purchasing decisions than I do. It's simply to say that when you value something, you sometimes have to make an effort to support it and nurture it.

As a book lover, I approach my book buying thusly: Any title I can get from the the Mystery Bookstore is purchased there. Titles that aren't available (those not in the mystery/thriller/suspense genres) I buy from Amazon or iBooks, usually as an eBook. I am an enthusiastic eBook reader, and I will continue to be. But I also continue to love paper books, and I always will–is it wrong for me to want (and expect) both?

The answer, unfortunately, seems to be yes. And this is, perhaps, what I am most angry and resentful about. The girl who always wants her cake and eat it too has at last been thwarted.

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Of course, the sense of loss I feel is so much more than that. I know it is increasingly difficult for independent booksellers to compete, at least price-wise, with the Amazons of the world. But it is impossible for Amazon and the like to compete or, even come close to, what stores like the Mystery Bookstore offer: community, personalized service, book recommendations, a place to meet many different authors (not just the big names) in person… the list goes on. I can hardly believe that after January 31, I will no longer have the pleasure of sitting in that shop, listening to a new or favorite author read from their latest release.

More than once, I've had conversations with Bobby, Linda, and Pamela that resulted in me enthusiastically buying whatever book they were passionately recommending. It wasn't some website saying "If you like this, then you will like this." They are people who love books, who know I love books, and know what I like to read because they've taken the time to get to know me. And every recommendation was spot on.

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Me & Linda Brown, assistant manager at the Mystery Bookstore

Lisa Lutz, Angela S. Choi, and Gregg Hurwitz can thank Linda for the new fan they have in me. Daniel Woodrell and Rebecca Cantrell can thank Bobby. I got to know Kelli Stanley, Stephen Jay Schwartz, Sue Ann Jaffarian, Rebecca Cantrell, Sophie Littlefield, and Eric Beetner at the shop, creating friendships that continue online and in person when we can. Most of the time, that personal contact is at the Mystery Bookstore. I got to be a fangirl when I met Lawrence Block and James Ellroy at the store. I was introduced to George Pellecanos, who is now one of my favorite writers.

And I dreamed of having my own book launch there.

For all of these reasons and more, the closing of the Mystery Bookstore is a big loss for me and for the crime fiction community, and one that I won't soon recover from. In the meantime, I hope to see you at their farewell party at 6pm on January 31.

If you're lucky enough to still have a beloved bookstore or other business in your community, please take a moment to consider the value, beyond prices or convenience, it brings to you and treat it accordingly.

Holly West

6 Comments

  1. Well-said as usual, Holly, and a heart-felt tribute to a truly great place for books and people.
    Shock, anger, mourning … we’re in the stages of grief here. Business is not just business … not when it is a labor of love by people you love.
    I wish I could be at the farewell party, but then again–I’d just cry a lot. I’ll be there in spirit, though.
    We’re all sadder and poorer and a little more lost than we were just a few weeks ago. It’ll take a long time for this wound to heal.

  2. hey holly, i have been really sad about this too. MBS, to me, *is* Los Angeles – the first time i felt any fondness for the city was my first visit to the shop. I went from fan girl to author there, and i remember *exactly* where i was standing when I met my own long list of authors. I even picked out the apartment where i wanted to live around the corner. I never stopped to think it might not be there when i was ready. 🙁

  3. Holly, not only did I meet Craig Johnson, Gregg Hurwitz, Chris Grabenstein and Jeff Parker all for the first time at MBS, I met you and my wonderful friends Michael Alatorre and Elyse Dinh-McCrillis in person for the first time there. It was worth the 3000 miles of travel!
    The store is a very special one and its loss is devastating to the entire community…all the way back to Ohio!

  4. Jen, I thought of the fact that I met you in person there for the first time and was sorry I didn’t mention it in the post. But yeah, that was great, and I’m very lucky to know you.

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