America’s Best Independent Bookstores: Stories Books and Café
A conversation with Claudia Colodro, co-owner (with Liz Garo) of Stories Books and Café, Los Angeles, CA.
inReads: You launched an independent bookstore in November 2008, just as the recession popped. Was that a leap of faith for you?
Claudia Colodro: We never planned on opening in the middle of a recession. We had been in partnership and working on launching the store before things went south. By the time we signed this lease for our store, it was February of 2008. Things didn’t get bad until July. We couldn’t pull out at that point; instead we could only go forward. And we’re still in business.
inReads: The food in the café section of your store is supposed to be amazing.
Colodro: You can’t open up an independent bookstore with just new books; it’s too hard. We’re a 50-50 mixture of new and used books and the food is the other half of the business—good coffee and baked goods and sandwiches. We knew we needed more than one business to make it work, so we combined two and made it one.
inReads: What book is selling the most right now? What book has sold the most over your ownership of the store?
Colodro: We have books that constantly fly out the door, like The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami and Renegade, the Mark E. Smith autobiography, and we couldn’t keep Just Kids by Patti Smith in stock.
inReads: What book do you see people picking up and paging through and NOT buying?
Colodro: Any big art book. [Laughs.] The giant $40-$50 art books. The best price point is either for used books or paperback books. I rarely buy new hardback books anymore.
inReads: On that note, I read an LA Times interview with you where you mentioned that authors like Bukowski and John Fante are really popular because of your clientele, in Echo Park, which has a unique population of young writers and artists and activists. It must be cool to have a business that’s overwhelmingly frequented by educated, socially-conscious book buyers… but they don’t necessarily buy $26 hardcovers.
Colodro: Yes, unfortunately, they don’t go hand-in-hand. But it’s fine. We’ve adapted to who lives here and who comes in. Our customer base is mostly young and bohemian they don’t have a lot of money and that’s fine with us. They come for coffee and then they love the used books. That’s why we’re 50-50 here between used and new books.
inReads: What surprised you as you launched this business?
CC: It’s been surprising in the way that we’re still here. The community’s support has been great. A lot of people in our area say that this neighborhood is gentrified, but there is still a broad Latino base here and we don’t offer Spanish books. We knew we couldn’t offer English and Spanish books and do it well. I was kind of afraid. Are we marginalizing [the Hispanic community]? Are we omitting them? Is it going to be hard on the business? I thought we might get some grief, but it hasn’t been a problem. The encouragement from everyone in the neighborhood has been wonderful.
inReads: Outside of shopping at independent bookstores, what else can book lovers do to help indie bookstores thrive?
Colodro: Well, we’re always open to hosting reading groups and book groups and small parties and gatherings, say someone needs a community gathering space. It goes outside of just books, it’s a good place to meet. I read that the combination of café and independent bookstore is getting more popular… make it more of a community place and people will come.
Stories Books and Café
1716 Sunset Boulevard Los Angeles, CA 90026