Words from Josh Spencer, Owner and Founder of The Last Bookstore
The bookselling business is definitely not for everyone. It is apparent with every new bookstore owner we interview each month that is takes a certain kind of determination to excel in one’s community and a love of bookselling to make it a worthwhile and rewarding venture. “If you care about making money, don’t do it! You’ll also have way less time to read, so don’t do it for that either. Only do it if making other readers happy makes you happy,” Josh said.
It is clear that is exactly what Josh enjoys when he tells me about one of his favorite encounters with a customer. “One gentleman visiting on business from Ethiopia came looking for books by Richard Wright, which he had read as a schoolboy but could no longer find in his country,” Josh said. The man left The Last Bookstore with every title by Wright with Josh’s help. “His gratitude meant a lot to me.”
As for readers that are looking for their next book, but can’t come into the store, Josh has a recommendation. “The Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt was one that kept me awake reading this past year. It's a quick, clever novel about two assassin brothers in the Wild West, with sort of a Coen Brothers dark humor to it. Someone smart should make a film of it someday,” Josh noted.
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The Last Bookstore
A Literary and Artistic Masterpiece
The Last Bookstore is one that readers have to see to believe. With its color-coded shelves, book portholes, book tunnels, and sculptures, there is no question that the books are put on center stage at the store.
“I was bored and repelled by the decor of most physical bookstores. I wanted to create the ideal bookstore in my mind, and which I thought could also be fantasized by other book-lovers,” owner Josh Spencer stated. “One informed by the aesthetics of the past and of the imagination.”
This idea is captured in one of the installations featuring sheet music suspended from the air unfurling from a typewriter. This work was a creation of Dave Lovejoy and Jena Priebe, who have created numerous installations that appear around The Last Bookstore. More of their work is featured in the Spring Arts Collective on the mezzanine level of the store along with countless other local artists.
The store opened in 2005 in a loft in Los Angeles, California, and throughout its history it has called three different buildings home as the inventory has continued to grow. Before The Last Bookstore, owner Josh Spencer developed a knack for selling a wide range of goods from cars to books on eBay. After some time, Josh made the shift to strictly focusing on books.
The Last Bookstore gives all their attention to the selling of physical books; you won’t find eBooks being offered at their store or on their website. Similar to the days before the physical store was open, The Last Bookstore continues to be very much involved in selling used books online via Amazon and eBay. “Amazon has never been a competitor for us as with most bookstores, but a partner,” Josh said.
Now, The Last Bookstore is one of the largest bookstores in the LA area still selling and buying used books. “Since we began by selling books online, initially our first small store location was thought of as a way to purchase more books to resell online,” Josh revealed. That isn’t the case anymore though; the majority of the books are now purchased and resold in the physical store. The exception being collectible books and books that the customers that usually visit their store don’t buy.
In fact, most of the store’s inventory is comprised of used books. Therefore, Josh and his staff rely on book donations and people looking to sell their books at the store in order to continue to have a large inventory that meets the constant demand for great used books. “Our model couldn’t exist if we weren’t constantly buying,” Josh stated.
The Last Bookstore’s latest expansion was 6,100 square feet addition to their inventory by opening up the Labyrinth, a book tunnel built completely of books and a favorite of many customers.
All of the books that make up the Labyrinth are donated. They are books that couldn’t be purchased by The Last Bookstore for one reason or another. “The $1 Labyrinth breaks even or loses money each month, so we mostly keep that going as a community service and a way to keep books out of landfills,” Josh stated.
With that being said, one can see there is no shelf life for books at The Last Bookstore. Most importantly, Josh and his team’s goal is to continue passing good books on to new owners. We look forward to seeing what comes next for them and how they will continue to take the inventory and design of The Last Bookstore into another world.
To keep up-to-date on The Last Bookstore, check out their website at: http://lastbookstorela.com/
Nicolette Amstutz is a writer for Independent Publisher. She recently graduated from the University of Michigan where she majored in English and Communications. Please contact her with any comments, questions, or criticisms at namstutz (at) umich.edu