Bookstore Opens Its 16th Chapter


By Dinah Shields

Special to the Independent


Among downtown merchants, Latitude 33 survived the 2010 flood with no damage to stock or shelving, says manager Kim Vater.


Now comes the hard part, as Latitude 33 nears its 15th anniversary at a time when small bookstores are struggling to stay alive.


Owner Tom Ahearn has worked tirelessly to keep his bookstore afloat in times that see threats from large chain stores and, perhaps most of all, the Internet.  Time spent browsing the web is time taken away from book reading, and books bought online take away sales from bricks-and-mortar stores.


“Purchases at this bookstore, rather than online or from a chain, result in more money staying in this town,” pointed out Ahearn, who is a Newport resident.


He praises both Oprah and J.K. Rowling, author of the Harry Potter series, as influencing book enthusiasts.  He credits Rowling with re-invigorating sales in young adult books, leading to other high-selling series such as Suzanne Collin’s highly-praised Hunger Games.


Having withstood the challenge from large chain stores, surviving independents may yet benefit as recession leads to consolidation among national booksellers. Their weakening serves to strengthen the position of smaller, community-oriented stores such as Latitude 33 and its local competitor Laguna Beach Books, which can offer the personal and knowledgeable service the chains lack.


For instance, Latitude 33 staffers are readers themselves and know the stock thoroughly.  A question that they love to be asked is “I’ve been reading these authors.  Can you recommend others that I might like?”


They have long held author signings, and on Jan. 22 will feature Tatjana Solis, author of the well-reviewed debut novel, “Lotus Eaters”.


They continue their commitment to the Laguna on the Same Page program, although the next title remains undetermined as they wrestle between two tempting candidates. The last Same Page title, “Tattoos on the Heart,” by Father Gregory Boyle, filled the Presbyterian Church hall and resulted in a $2,650 donation to Father Boyle’s foundation, Homeboy Industries.


Another advantage of a small locally run bookstore over a large chainstore is an edited, curated collection. This is reflected in a planned art-book reception next year as their adult buyer, Judith Werkstell, continues refining the stock of fine art books, reflecting Laguna’s identity as a center for both artists and art-lovers. Latitude 33 already shares space with Jim Nordstrom’s Silver Images photography store.


When asked about impact of ebooks on their store, Vater smiled calmly and said, “it’s just another format.” Later next year, Latitude 33 intend to offer ebooks via their website, as part of a program devised by Google and the American Booksellers Association.


The two-day pre-Christmas disruption due to the rainstorm did affect sales, Vader says, but sales had been good up to that point, and she remains confident of a good year ahead for the store.


“We are grateful for the continued support from the booklovers and readers in our community,” Vater says.



Dinah Shields is a book-industry lifer.  She is owner of Bespoke Libraries, a Laguna-based private library service.



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