Sam: Johnson’s Bookshop

Who We Are

Sometime in the `50’s two kids from Westchester High School found joy in ransacking Los Angeles’ second-hand bookshops together

            Larry Myers, the precocious kid who knew all about everything.

            Bob Klein, the unprecocious kid who didn’t.

            Fired by fantasy, they’d root up whole bookshops hunting rarities by H.P. Lovecraft, Arthur Machen, Lord Dunsany, Algernon Blackwood—the list goes on.  And what bookshops the city boasted in the 1950’s. Particularly in Hollywood.  Pickwick Bookshop had a huge used book section upstairs; Cherokee Bookshop specialized in fantasy; Larson’s, in the ghostly and occult.  The magic of THE BOOKSHOP cast a glamour that has not faded.

            Some years later Bob went on to become a teacher.

            Larry went on to become—but no one quite knows what he went on to become.  Probably he is still becoming it.

            Years later still, in 1976, in order to augment his meager academic earnings Bob decided to become a bookseller.  His girlfriend of the time—the lovely Sheryl (whose hips stopped traffic)—backed him all the way.  Otherwise he might have ended up selling aluminum siding.  Not anxious to fail alone, Bob browbeat Larry into becoming his partner.  For opening stock, each was responsible for amassing 5,000 books—exclusive naturally from the sacrosanctity of their own private libraries.

            When their respective closets bulged, their friend Frank Spellman (of Krown and Spellman Booksellers), who had himself decided to decorate the trade, bagged two adjacent empty stores in a building on Westwood Boulevard; one for himself, one for Larry and Bob.

            Sam: Johnson’s Bookshop opened to rave reviews (at least Bob and Larry raved) in August 1977 with a stock partially enhanced by generous donations by J.B. Kennedy (of J.B. Kennedy Books), who pitied the two innocents. Another essential bookseller was Andy Dowdy (of Other Times Books), who patiently answered their stupid questions. “Ask Andy,” was their slogan when the boys became pathetically confused, which was most of the time.  He never let them down.

What we wanted.

            We wanted to sell wonderful books in fine condition and sell them at reasonable prices. And we wanted a constantly renewing stock. 

            Above all, we sought the Magic of the BOOKSHOP (capital letters all).  A place of culture and wondrous surprise.  A place to be.  The Great Good Place.  We wished to have something wonderful for everyone: Affordable rarities for the collector.  Solid clean copies of middle priced books for the general good reader.  Inexpensive paperbacks for students and the other walking indigent.  As well as a Sale Section of good hard bound books, $2 apiece, 6 for $10.

After a rocky week or two, we learned to pay good prices for good books and to have the strength to refuse a book in less than very nice condition.

The Open Boat

The first ten years the bookshop sailed smoothly, except for breakers in the form of landlords anxious to drown. After three years our Westwood landlord amused himself by tripling our rent.  So in 1980 we moved to Santa Monica Boulevard, in West LA, two doors from the shop of our friend Gene De Chene, another admirable bookseller.  This time two landlords owned the building.  So they were twice as eager to raise the rent.  After eight years of yearly rising increments, in 1987 Bob decided to buy his own building on Venice Boulevard. 

            The amenities of Sam: Johnson’s include the owners’ personalities, along with a  Steinway piano, a rubber mummy, dummy rats, and a human head emerging from a pot.  It is always Hallowe’en at Sam: Johnson’s.  In addition we have our own rear parking lot and garden.  Above all, we have classical music, sometimes live (remember that piano?), other times recorded.  We occasionally offer signings and poetry reading (also mostly live).  We’re open seven days and strain to get new stock every day.

Intentions

To landscape the unparkable parts of the parking lot.  To build an arbor with benches for reading.  To saturate the area in flowering shrubs and visiting livestock like butterflies.

Addenda and corrigenda

In addition to stocking books we’ve written published by other people, we decided it might be fun to issue our own books.

            If sufficiently tantalized, punch up Books we publish.

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