I slipped into 5-hours-old Skylight Books 1814 in Los Feliz yesterday as I was biking back from Griffith Park, so already I’m in a good mood, but the new store ramps it up considerably.
A clean, well lit space, it seduces with its array of art and nonfiction books. (All fiction is still in the original store next door.) I swoon in the music section– I want five books within about fifteen seconds but I winnow it down to a fresh copy of Please Kill Me, Legs McNeil’s incendiary oral rehash of the messy birth of punk in 1970s New York. My first copy didn’t make the cut for the move west so it feels good to correct the mistake.
Kerry Slattery, Skylight’s general manager and co-owner, is all smiles as she tells me about the previous night’s move into the new space. It sounds like performance art, a military exercise and solemn ritual all at once.
We had forty-five volunteers that I organized with email through an announcement that I put in Skylight’s monthly newsletter. Initially we got about 90 responses to my call for people to help with the move. But once I let them know the times I needed them, we ended up with the 45 in addition to our staff.
Pearl Yonezawa, who is the Senior Librarian from the Los Feliz Public Library, was the volunteer wrangler and she really pulled it all together. She’s done something like 180 library moves so she knows what to do.
We even ended up tweaking our categories when we moved. We had some books classified as humor and Pearl pulled me aside and said, “You know, this is not really in the right category.” So we did a little reorganizing too.
Vroman’s Books in Pasadena was nice enough to lend us 18 large carts for the move. And the fixtures in both stores are all from bookstores that have closed in the past few years. The owners of those stores were always so glad their fixtures were going to another independent bookstore.
She talks about plans for art exhibits on the walls above the shelves in the new space, a well as the chance to spread out the fiction in the original store. This pulls me up and I ask if the inventory in the new store was actually all contained in the original store.
Her eyes grow wide.
Yes, it was all in the store next door. Can you believe we had two stores worth of books in there? It’s still hard for me to grasp.
But her big news to tell is the gala grand opening on Saturday, August 30th.
We’re having a band perform that is made up of our employees who have their own bands. The rule is that none of the musicians can play the instruments they normally play; they have to play something different that night. They’re writing some songs especially for the gala.
In this age of internet sales and behemoth chains squashing independents to non-existence, to set foot in this Los Feliz institution is to reclaim the golden age of bookstores. You might even wonder how you could ever go back to the chains.
Kerry Slattery, center, Skylight Books‘ general manager and co-owner, with associates Dan Kusunoki and Monica Carter.
Skylight Books, 1818 & 1814 N. Vermont Ave., Los Angeles CA 90027
Photographs by CP