Three moms open independent Manhattan Beach book shop
Once upon a time, in a land of corporate chain bookstores, three moms decided to open a small, independent book shop in the heart of Manhattan Beach.
They set out to cut through the two-story, espresso-vending, discount-driven nature of the big box stores, and return to a way of book selling that they believed had gotten lost.
Hour-long conversations with the friendly bookseller behind the counter. Personalized recommendations about the latest non-fiction. Detailed discussions about novels Oprah has yet to add to her renowned book club. And, of course, a neighborhood children’s story hour.
These are the community touches that residents Patricia Gibson, Linda McLoughlin Figel and Margot Farris felt were lacking from the Barnes and Nobles of the world.
“People have started to miss the little book stores,” Farris said.
The three moms imagined a small book shop where neighbors would gather to discuss their favorite authors, spread ideas and pique each others’ curiosities.
“We wanted it to be a meeting place for people from the whole neighborhood,” Farris said.
For Gibson, the dream of owning a book shop has been a long time coming.
“Since I was 12 years old, I’ve wanted a book store,” Gibson said. “I was the type of kid that would’ve slept on the sidewalk in front of the bookstore for the new Harry Potter book. I’m not that crazy anymore.”
When Gibson, Figel and Farris open Pages: a Bookstore early next month, the self-dubbed “three committed bibliophiles” know that the fairy tale is only about to begin and a happy ending is not guaranteed.
Times are especially tough for book sellers. Last month, Borders Group announced the closure of 200 stores and the elimination of 1,500 jobs.
“Everybody thinks it’s crazy,” Farris said. “We’re bucking the trend. When a lot of stores are closing, we’re opening. But it’s a unique time. The publishing industry has changed and anything could happen right now.”
Manhattan Beach has not had an independent bookstore since Hungry Mind bookstore closed several years ago.
“There was definitely a void when it closed,” Figel said.
The three women have forged friendships through their kids’ sports, discussions about Larry McMurtry’s Lonesome Dove and Tracy Kidder’s Mountains Beyond Mountains, and dreams of co-owning a book shop.
One of Figel’s most treasured gifts — a coffee mug from Gibson that reads “What would Atticus do?” — is a tribute to the hero of her favorite book, Harper Lee‘s To Kill a Mockingbird.
Gibson and Figel, who met through their husbands, have talked casually about opening a book shop throughout their nearly 20-year friendship. Figel formerly worked in finance and Gibson in television production before both left to raise children.
The pair became serious about their bookstore venture in 2005, attending book-selling workshops as far away as Florida.
“I bought a book on book-selling from the American Booksellers Association and mentioned it to Linda,” Gibson said. “She lit my fire.”
However, their enthusiasm began to wane last year as people warned against the dangers of entering into such a precarious industry. When mutual friend and fellow book lover Farris signed on as the third owner last year, she reignited the fire. In December, the trio leased a 2,000 square-foot building on the east side of Manhattan Avenue, a block south of the pier, and added a few coats of turquoise paint.
“The biggest challenge has been making the economics work,” Figel said. “Volume-driven stores can discount their books. We’ve struggled for a year trying to make it work.”
The owners share a basic philosophy. The choice of books they will carry and recommend to customers will be driven by a careful selection process.
“Hand selling is the idea of walking into a book store and getting personal advice on good books to read,” Figel said. “It’s a lost art in larger bookstores, where people are just there to steer you in the right direction.”
Gibson recalls learning about new authors and books directly as a result of personalized suggestions from independent book sellers.
“There was a book that came out over a year ago called The Help, by Kathryn Stockett,” Gibson said. “It didn’t hit the best seller list until June, but we read it in March because a bookseller turned us onto it.”
The soon-to-be shopkeepers spent hours poring over book lists and settled on an inventory that includes fiction, non-fiction, children, young adult, cooking, travel, and coffee table books.
They believe that through hand selling, they will be able to bring attention to new and local writers who often get drowned out among the myriad books in larger stores. Manhattan Beach’s Grant Patrick, author of Lifestyles of Southern California, and Redondo Beach’s Jennie Nash, author of The Last Beach Bunglaow, are among the top of the list.
“The biggest rule of thumb in deciding what we will carry is whether or not we like it,” Figel said. “I think we each have a unique sense of taste for books that complements each other. Ultimately, our customers will be good sources of what we will carry too.”
There are no pages in Pages yet. Gibson, Figel and Farris are awaiting their first shipment while putting final pieces in place, including black shelves that will wrap around the store, outdoor dog bowls and bike racks, and furniture comfy enough for any teen to plop down in with the latest book from D.J. MacHale, Manhattan Beach author of the popular tweener series Pendragon.
The three owners plan to regularly hold author events and book signings, children’s story hours and open microphone nights for teens to share poetry and prose. They also hope that the homey shop will serve as headquarters for local book clubs.
“Maybe we’ll even have a travel book club,” Farris said. “Little ideas are constantly buzzing in our heads to bring into the store.”
On March 21 from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m., Gibson, Figel and Farris will host Pages’ first author event, where New York Times bestselling author Kelly Corrigan will discuss her latest book, Lift, about raising children.
“We want people to come in and feel the energy of the community, exchange ideas and talk to other book lovers,” Farris said. “We hope to inspire people and turn them onto new, thought-provoking books.”
For more information, visit www.pagesabookstore.com or call (310) 318-0900. ER