Opinion: That’s So Laguna

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My Love for Laguna Beach Books

By Denise Di Novi

I can go into a bookstore anywhere in the world and feel safe, calm and at home. Even if there are no books in English and I have no idea what I’m looking at, surround me with walls of books, plenty of people browsing through the stacks, sales people who love books enough to work there, and I’m happy.

The comfort of losing yourself in a good book cannot be duplicated. I often think I ended up making movies because I wanted to bring my favorite books to life: “Little Women,” “James and the Giant Peach,” and “Practical Magic” to name a few. But no matter how excellent the adaptation, it’s rare for a movie to be as good as the original book, and reading is still one of my most cherished pursuits.

You won’t be surprised to hear that I’m most happy of all at our beloved Laguna Beach Books. Tucked into the row of shops that fill what was once The Old Pottery Shack, the store was opened by Jane Hanauer 15 years ago. Jane had always dreamt of opening a bookstore but was wary of being able to make the rent, a legendary challenge for any book store but especially in pricey Laguna Beach. That problem was solved when her husband Joe Hanauer redeveloped the enormous Old Pottery Shack which dated back to 1937. With the legendary Laguna architect Morris Skenderian at the helm, the Laguna history and charm was maintained but with great contemporary style, also making it both retail and pedestrian friendly. They even kept the animal statues on the roof which are at the top of my “That’s So Laguna” List! The quality of Sapphire restaurant and the surrounding stores is top notch and I believe it is the most successful redevelopment thus far in Laguna Beach. For many of us, the best thing about it is that it allowed Jane to open her bookstore. I’m more than a little proud that with so many closings in much bigger markets, our town has supported this world class book shop for so long, especially these past two years.

The most extraordinary thing about the store is its relationship with the customers. I’ve never seen anything like it in anywhere else. There are hundreds of regulars with many being on a first name basis with the staff. Jane, the manager Lisa Childers, long-time employees Lin Childers, Christopher Weaver, and Sydney Gordon make everyone feel welcome in ways that only true book lovers can. The effort they put into the staff reviews next to the books on the shelves is evidence of the passion they have for their work and for reading.

Pre-COVID, the amount of book clubs, reader events, book signings, local author lectures, and writing groups rivaled those of any big city store. I am struck by how many tourists come in saying this is their first stop when they get to town, looking forward all winter to stocking up on their summer reading. Staff greets them like old friends and makes them feel like locals. There are scores of kids who have grown up sitting in the little chairs in the spacious and beautifully arranged children’s section. Parents are grateful for a place to instill the love of reading in their children combined with a walk on the beach and a candy from the nearby Chocolate Soldier.

Like most retail store owners, Jane has had to cut back somewhat on employee hours and hours of operation, which now run from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Regulars have kept up steady stream, still receiving their 10 percent loyalty discount. Thankfully, books were on a lot of people’s shopping lists this past Christmas and it appeared that the personalized recommendations and beautiful wrapping actually lured a lot of folks away from Amazon.

No one can argue that e-books are not convenient for nighttime reading, travel or for enlarging text. Jane is realistic about their appeal. But, as she says, “people still like to hold a real book in their hands, and for many people, reading on their iPad or computer feels too similar to what they do for work all day.” For me, turning off the technology and grabbing my book is a signal that my day is winding down and my often fried brain can shift gears. In fact, I can’t go to sleep without reading first, no matter what time it is, and I have a constant supply so I’m never without a book. The Japanese have a word, Tsundoku, for all the books you buy that pile up on your table. My nightstand is a shrine to Tsundoku, but they bring me great comfort.  As habits go, it could be worse. And of course, almost all of them come from Laguna Beach Books.

Denise is a film and television producer and director at PatMa Productions and Di Novi Pictures and a longtime resident in the Village neighborhood of Laguna Beach.

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  1. Thank you for bringing to light Jane Hanauer’s years of work to create one of the best stores anywhere – Laguna Beach Books. Joe Hanauer and Morris Skenderian certainly created a center that is not only historically significant but incorporates unique, contemporary elements as well.
    Lisa and Lin, Christopher and Sydney are always eager to help you find or order the perfect book. Over the years I’ve bought books for myself, my book club, children’s gifts and for author events.
    I also want to comment on the other boutiques in the center – the Cock & Tail, Shoe Box, Vogue Salon, Chocolate Soldier and Sapphire restaurant are amongst the best on the south OC coast.
    Thank you to Jane and staff, and to these other stores — all labors of love, for your work in creating a unique customer experience in our town.

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