Thursday, July 18, 2024

Well-read: The Long Beach bookstore renaissance happening on 4th Street

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The Long Beach bookstore is having an outright renaissance along the Retro Row stretch of 4th Street. And it’s thanks to the love of the tangible slowly returning as people steer more healthily away from screens and towards the things of this earth. Especially the printed page.

The Long Beach bookstore has been no stranger to 4th Street—but citywide, has seen multiple downsizes

When Open moved from its Downtown Long Beach location (where District Wine has been for 14 years) to its Retro Row location (now occupied by Immoni), it brought everything with it that defined Millennial culture: Open provided a bit of hope. It was for the patrons who yearned to score old copies of Adbusters. Or find independently printed books filled with the words of Long Beach poets. Or meander past a window display beautifully decked out with decorations. Owner Sé Reed even briefly re-opened the space in Brass Bar in Downtown, Long Beach’s drink-and-read-or-write space that was far too short lived.

And Open wasn’t the only one.

The year before Open’s 2012 closure, a much larger closure happened: Borders, a nationwide competitor with Barnes & Noble, shuttered both of its Long Beach locations. Apostrophe Books closed in 2016. Planet Books was closed by its owners, James Rappaport and Michael Munns, in 2020. Owner Sean Moore’s Gatsby’s Books closed this very year, just last month.

And years before Open and Borders shuttered, the famed Acres of Books—Downtown Long Beach’s literary hub—shuttered. Operated in Long Beach for nearly 75 years and declared a city landmark in 1990, Acres was the stuff of legend. And its laborious closure only added to the frustration: While the first goodbye was in 2008—with city leaders taking sledgehammers to its facade no less—there was another goodbye in 2010 and then another goodbye that very year. And by “goodbye,” I mean events advertised as being the last time you can visit the space.

Enough about sadness—what about this Long Beach bookstore renaissance on 4th?

Even with Open gone (and, adding to it, Retrospect and The Hangout, each offering mini-outlets for book sellers to exist before each shuttered), 4th Street is straight up having a bookstore renaissance. Heading from west to east, here are the highlights of places dedicated to the not-as-almighty-but-still-awesome printed page as the Long Beach bookstore life continues.

Casita Bookstore at 1440 E. 4th St.

After suffering a coordinated homophobic attack last year, Casita Bookstore owner Antonette Franceschi-Chavez stands tall and proud in the Long Beach Bookstore scene. The bookstore’s dedication to community is astoundingly old-school in a time where everything feels so saturated with a digital film: She hosts book fairs, she will create orders for books to be sent to you on a regular basis, and she regularly asks parents what they want for their own collections—hence the Spanish language book selection, of which Antonette is particularly proud.

“When I was teaching, it was particularly hard to find books in Spanish, especially ones that reflected an authentic experience,” Antonette said. “And it’s been fulfilling because it’s largely driven by word of mouth… The biggest goal, though, is pretty simple: That every person that walks in here has their self represented in at least one book.”

Can we get an amen?

Bel Canto Books at 2106 E. 4th Street

I mentioned The Hangout closing—and Bel Canto Books was a part of that closure. Being one of the tenants inside the collective, it was an essential part of the Long Beach bookstore scene. Founded by Filipina-American poet and former hospitality executive Jhoanna Belfer, the independent bookstore highlights works by writers of color and other marginalized communities. (And fun fact: The store’s name comes from author Ann Patchett’s own “Bel Canto” novel.)

“I had been working in corporate America for almost fifteen years and was starting to think about what I wanted to do next,” Belfer said. “Then in early 2017, just after the inauguration, I was lucky enough to hear Ann Patchett, one of my favorite authors and a bookstore owner herself, speak at a writer’s conference. She talked about how her bookstore had become a place of solace and inspiration for her community during the long election cycle and its aftermath. She suggested that if we could open a bookstore, we should. That was the A-ha! moment for me”

Kitchen Lingo at 2116 E. 4th St.

One would think that, as an active food writer, I would have done a profile on Kitchen Lingo. It is, after all, dedicated to all things food and cooking. Alas, I have not—but will hopefully do so eventually. The main reason I know about the space beyond it being around the corner from where I live is the fact that my former colleague and editor, Farley Elliott from Eater LA (now of S.F. Gate), hosted an event there. And to be frank, that’s pretty cool.

Amid its rad decor and array of books—both historical and new—Kitchen Lingo is a wittily named space with a distinctly unique vibe.

Page Against the Machine at 2714 E. 4th St.

Chris Giaco has been a 4th Street staple for years. He once led Retrospect and now heads what has always been his true passion: Books.

Fiercely and proudly leftist, Grace’s step into a tiny, maybe-375-square-foot space honestly feels like a natural extension of what he was always trying to provide 4th Street. And that is a little connection to the unusual. Maybe even the social-justice-as-inspiration. Or perhaps luring the casual onlooker with his wonderful pun of a store name.

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Either way, it is appropriate his space is on the bookend of the bookstore stretch. As one of the longest lovers of showcasing the written word to Long Beach, it feels right (write?) that he caps off one’s journey (should they begin west to east) or begins it (should they do the opposite) on 4th Street’s great Long Beach bookstore renaissance.

Brian Addison
Brian Addison
Brian Addison has been a writer, editor, and photographer for more than a decade, covering everything from food and culture to transportation and housing. In 2015, he was named Journalist of the Year by the Los Angeles Press Club and has since garnered 25 nominations and three additional wins. In 2019, he was awarded the Food/Culture Critic of the Year across any platform at the National Arts & Entertainment Journalism Awards.

4 COMMENTS

  1. Love Kitchen Lingo. Their Ruth Reichl book signing event was terrific. The owner is very well-connected in the LA food scene. A wonderful place for gifts from first editions to small 1960s booklets of recipes from corporate brands (Pillsbury, Campbell’s Soups, Mixmaster, etc.)

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