By Kedric Francis
Latitude 33 Bookshop is closing, and it’s all my fault. The store on Ocean Avenue has been part of my regular Laguna Beach routine since it opened some 15 years ago. I adore the store; there’s something about a really good bookstore that draws me in wherever I am in the world. And to have such a fine one just a short walk down the hill from our home has been a wonderful thing.
And I’m not just a browser. I’ve been a regular enough customer to be recognized by the welcoming workers in the shop, who know my 11-month-old son Otis by name. Somewhere I have a cache of the frequent buyer bookmarks good for $10 off that I should have used while I still had the chance.
But I could have done much, much more. I’m an Amazon buyer, you see. And I know it’s people like me (including many of you) who are killing the independent bookstores I so dearly love. I probably buy 60 percent of my books online, at least by dollar amount. (I’m a big fan of Friends of the Library stores in Laguna and Newport Beach, so I get the bulk of my book addiction fix at a buck or two a used book).
The first purchase I made on Amazon was in November, 1996: “The Holocaust Odyssey of Daniel Bennahmias, Sonderkommando” for $22. You can track all your Amazon purchases back to day one in your “Account” section—I’m at 85 transactions in 2011, though much of that is stuff for the baby—but I try to avoid the practice. It just makes me think that if I’d been buying Amazon stock at the same rate all these years I’d be better off, at least financially. Maybe not “buy a losing proposition of a Laguna Beach bookstore” better, but still.
Now Latitude 33 is joining a stellar lineup of closed bookstores, including my all-time favorite, Fahrenheit 451, in its incarnations on both sides of Coast Highway, the most recent of which went belly-up in 1994. I still yearn for a two-volume, Olympic Press version of “that book by Nabokov” that I saw years ago in the store’s first editions case. I lusted after it for a summer, but at a couple of hundred bucks it was too rich for my college-bound blood. I see it online for up to $10,000 now.
When I first heard Latitude 33 was for sale, I hoped someone with a bit of spare cash would fall in love with the idea of owning a beach town bookstore. But as the months passed and the inventory dwindled, I realized the store would fall victim to the inexorable tides of technology, economic currents and market waves that we’re all doing our best to ride.
The comedic actor Will Ferrell was in the store a week or two ago. He’s the type that might underwrite writers and literature, I thought, and for just a pittance of what he earned on “Land of the Lost.” He owes the world some payback for that bad bit of work. But alas, he was just buying books at a bargain, like the rest of us.
Still, we’re luckier than most when it comes to books. Though the loss of Latitude 33 cuts deeply, but we still have a great bookstore in Laguna Beach Books, plus there’s the combo vintage books and DVD rental store, Barnaby Rudge, and the shops at Montage and boutiques like Tuvalu and Aris carry top selections from the design, fashion and gift books world.
In honor of Latitude 33’s demise, let’s make a locals-only promise that we won’t just browse, but buy. And not just at bookstores, but also at places that help make Laguna Beach great, though they might never make a tourist’s must-see itinerary. At places like Laguna Beach Hardware and Jim Otto’s Sound Spectrum Records to your favorite art gallery or boutique, let’s shop local, or still more of the Laguna we love may be lost forever, just like Latitude 33 as of Aug. 21.
Kedric Francis is a writer and group editor for Firebrand Media.