Silver Lake’s Circus of Books prepares for its final chapter


Storefront ReportSILVER LAKE — Before guys hooked up via apps and watched porn online, there was Circus of Books. The Sunset Junction shop and the original in West Hollywood once thrived selling adult magazines, videos, DVDs, novelties and, as the company website points out, lubricants. But now it appears that the Silver Lake store’s days are numbered.

The exterior of the corner storefront has been stenciled with the words “Going Going Going” while its Facebook page announces an upcoming art show – Everything Must Go – that it says will serve as a celebration of the Silver Lake shop before it closes for good. “Before the Silverlake location shutters its doors in the coming months, an exhibition is being mounted to celebrate this last great holdout of grit and counterculture,” according to the exhibition announcement.

A person at the Silver Lake store on Tuesday said that the Circus of Books in West Hollywood, which is owned by the same owners, will remain open.  It’s not clear what will move into the Silver Lake shop at the corner Sunset Boulevard and Sanborn Avenue.

In a 2011 first-person story, Rachel Mason, daughter of bookstore owners Karen and Barry Mason,  tells how her parents bought the store in West Hollywood, which at the time was named Book Circus, about 40 years ago. They expanded into Silver Lake in the 1980s.

Rachel Mason writes:

After my parents realized they could manage a store, they replicated the business in Silverlake. The second store has big mural on the side of it. When they first started the business back in the 80’s, gangs constantly sprayed over each others’ tags on the store’s exterior walls. One day my dad approached one of the taggers and asked what he could do to make them stop. They said if he let an artist make a mural and sign his name to it, no one would ever graffiti up the building anymore. So my dad paid him to spray a mural which stayed on the building for nearly 20 years.

The Eastsider has contacted Mason for more details.

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  1. Casbah Café, most likely El Chavo, now Circus of Books. The last bit of color’s draining fast out of Silver Lake’s face. I fear there’s no hope left. Soon all will be tidy, bland and beige; family friendly and innocuous. I loved that old whore. She had a heart of gold. I felt her soul creeping away some time ago. Silver Lake will soon be dead. Long live Silver Lake.

    • The only thing that is constant is change. Nostalgia can be a dangerous place to get stuck.

      • No one’s talking about being “stuck” anywhere. But having complete disregard for the past is not the answer. People like you would tear down the Empire State Building to make way for high-rise housing or boot-out City Lights bookstore for a Gap. Moving forward and preserving can co-exist without complete erasure of those unique things that give a community their sense of place and keep them from succumbing from the monotonous sameness and bland lowest common denominator that’s infesting our world. I like change if it’s revolutionary and has a chance of becoming iconic in it’s own right, but so far very little of what I’m seeing in Silver Lake fits that bill. Yeah! Bring on more Encino! That’s change … whatever.

        • Well said, ese-ese!

        • “People like me?”…like you know me based on one comment?

          Here is the difference bone head. The Empire State Building is a standing icon because it manages to support itself. If Circus of books were popular enough to do the same, it wouldn’t be going extinct like the rest of the dinosaur businesses you speak. Businesses are no different than any other living breathing creature, if they do not evolve -they die off. Sorry for the reality check

        • It’s not just Silverlake… All of Los Angeles suffers from “erasism” – the obliteration of the past to make way for the future. It’s happening in every corner, largely because of two reasons: LA is mostly transient and the number of people who have no long term connection to it is large. Also, those un-connected people see LA as a developer’s gold mine and decide they have to build something with their personal stamp there, rather than reuse or adapt what is already there. It’s a preservationist’s nightmare indeed.

    • If you loved this place so much maybe you should have bought more of the awesome mags circus of books offered so they could stay in business.

  2. I’m sure that whatever replaces Circus of Books will as tony as all get out, and frankly more likely an establishment that my friends and I will frequent, but even so this loss makes me sad. Circus of Books is one of the last classic businesses left that gave Silver Lake the gritty vibe that is what attracted people from across the globe to the neighborhood in the first place. Thankfully Rough Trade is still holding on, but for how much longer…….?

  3. Well, time to pack it up, folks. Silver Lake is done.

    It’s a shame, too. Everything that’s been forced out these last few months are the weird, wacky places that made Silver Lake “cool” to begin with. Now, all the Westsiders and investors have come in, painted everything the same shade of hipster grey, and turned a cool neighborhood into a whitewashed, overpriced neighborhood that more resembles a suburb than our beloved Eastside.

    When Tangs Donuts left, I knew the end was near.

  4. The Black Cat came back, albeit in a form which little resembles the original. Maybe something similar will happen with the historic New Faces bar, which occupied the Circus of Books space when the gay rights protests took place on New Year’s Day 1967.

  5. What new businesses exactly do you people hate in Silver Lake? The sausage place? Dinosaur Coffee? Forage? Which are homogenous Santa Monica-esque businesses, or are you all the GOP of Los Angeles who fear change for the sake of fearing change.

    • I have to admit I do prefer the vast majority of the new businesses to the old ones. Honestly I would rarely set foot into any of the businesses 10 or 15 years ago whereas I shop and eat in the neighborhood almost daily now.

    • Black Cat is insanely over priced and pretty damned pretentious. If they lost the shit service and front of house attitude, it might be worth visiting.

      • I don’t mind it. To each their own.

      • I’ve had only exquisite, friendly service at Black Cat. Yes, it’s pricey, but pretty amazing fare. I had been in Le Barcito (the previous grungy Latino gay bar), and couldn’t believe it was the same space!

        I am plessed that they properly pay homage to its historic past, with the portraits from the protests, which occurred two years before Stonewall.

    • I like unique. Quirky. Singular. Places that are unto themselves and stand alone totally unlike their peers. I like lived-in, loved-in places with history and soul. I like things that make the conventionalists a little uneasy. That flow against the mainstream. The iconoclasts with a side of the transgressive. It’s what keeps life fun, exciting, interesting and forces you to occasionally snap out of the mind numbing, mainstream corporate flow. Screw pristine. If your grandma would be a little out of place there, it’s perfect. You know, a bit of rock’n’roll heart. Nope ,,, couldn’t be less of a GOP-er. I’m a borderline socialist. Thanks for asking. Go Bernie!

      Dinosaur Coffee is sterile, boring and soulless. They have nice coffee. Ditto Currywurst. Boring. Okay sausage bites. I like Forage’s food, indeed I’d eat there all the time if I could afford to eat out that often, but I usually take it to go because it’s fast-food aesthetic engenders little love. It does have “something” though … an undefinable quirkiness that I like. I think in time it will become the funky old guard and 20 years on people will mourn it’s passing. Dinosaur Coffee and Currywurst? Not so much.

      • And by the way, it’s not like Dinosaur Coffee or Currywurst took over any cultural touchstones. There was no “there” there in either instance. If they’d torn down the Elliot Smith wall, yes, there’d be outrage.

      • “Mourn it’s passing”

        You hit it on the head that is the exact thing…

        Grew up in Silver Lake, mourn much nothing new will be mourned.

        Silver Lake used to be an unusual retreat within Los Angeles, now it feels like just another area.

      • Word. Dinosaur (and other new Eastside coffee shops) have no soul. No art on the walls, very cold and sterile. Oh, but they serve $7 avocado toast and drinks in mason jars! That has to mean they’re good, right?? (UGH.) I miss comfortable, welcoming coffee shops in the area.

        Also, in Old Silver Lake, people didn’t care how you looked or how cool you were. Now, you can’t go out to eat without feeling like you’ve walked into a fashion show and are being judged. There’s a reason I didn’t move to Melrose, Santa Monica et al — it was because of this pretentious, vapid attitude!

    • Sausage place has been in the neighborhood for ~5 years now, and they’re not responsible for gentrification. Ditto with places like Inteligensia and Forage, who clearly didn’t move to Silver Lake for the Great Cash Grab Of 2013.

      I raise a big eyebrow to places that have opened (and some, lol, closed!) in the last year to year and a half. Follow the money trail to see exactly where these new businesses are coming from — people who don’t live in this area and do not care about this area. (ie: Moon Juice? Lady and her hippy business are based in Venice, clearly just came here for the $$$)

      Places like El Condor and the new El Chavo (RIP) are great examples of these types of businesses — overpriced yet serving outdated/uninspired food at a high price point, when there are already great options for their type of food/service in the neighborhood.

      • While intelligentsia has good coffee and forage great food they are exactly the gentrification….the cash grab was in 2000, back when street parking was abundant and free.

  6. Silverlake has been over for 15 years.
    Highland Park was over when the Dragon closed.

  7. Love is in the air and strong!. Don’t forget to enjoy a classic mexican restaurant in Silverlake opened in 1962….probably before most of you were born…..
    7 days a week for 53 years!
    “Casita del Campo” on Hyperion Ave. 1920 Hyperion Ave.
    1962 charm still intact…Viva Casita, Viva Silverlake!!

  8. As an un-hip senior citizen I too am sorry to see Circus of Books leave.
    I drove past it frequently and was glad to see a business that stayed open all hours–a fact that probably saved one man’s life when he was attacked late at night some years ago .
    Circus of Books never appeared disruptive to me and obviously fulfilled some people’s desires. It was so inoffensive that a friend
    of mine went in unknowingly to look for children’s books once.
    The mural gave me an uplift whenever I passed by. And of course as a locally owned business it had the advantage over chain
    stores in that the owners were known in the community.

  9. If everyone loved these old businesses so much then how come no one shopped there? They’re closing for a reason. I was born and raised in Silver Lake, I’m sad to see Circus of Books go but I haven’t been in there in years. Yeah it’s sad to see the neighborhood change but these businesses were just taking up space. A nice restaurant would be cool. The old Silver Lake was ghetto guys. I used to walk those streets everyday to and from school. I miss it but don’t wish it to look that way anymore. Unfortunately I don’t shop the current stores either as they’re overpriced but the neighborhood does look cleaner.

    • Circus of books was done-in by internet porn. I’d be ecstatic if another subversive bookstore took it’s place. Remember Amok? That would be awesome. But instead I’m sure whatever it ends up being will be something that could be plopped down anywhere in the city and won’t ruffle anyone’s feathers. Silver Lake used to be edgy. Artistic. Different than other places in the city. It was youthful and cutting-edge. It’s now very mainstream. I hate mainstream.

  10. Gentrification is an outrage only when they close a place you like or open a place you don’t. Otherwise, it’s progress. I’ve never stepped foot in Currywurst, but I prefer it to the place that was there before that always seemed totally empty. As a PP mentioned, it’s not like it supplanted a local landmark. For me, the development in the Junction in the last 10 or so years has been overwhelmingly positive: Intelligentsia, Bar Stella, Cheese Shop all created a little village where people can hang out and interact. The stuff I find disturbing is the Shinola, APC, SuperRetroFuture (RetroSuperFuture) that seem to be taking SL into the Abbot Kinney zone of high-end shopping mall. Don’t even get me started on Yummy.com. I’m going to be keeping a close eye on who moves into Casbah. That could be the linchpin to the future of the Junction.

    • But that’s just it. Circus of Books WAS a local landmark. As was Casbah Café. There’s nothing wrong with progress, but if you erase every last thing that made the neighborhood different from other neighborhoods and gave it character and soul, what exactly are you left with? Where is the Silver Lake-ness of Silver Lake? Circus of Books was one of the very last of those things, unutterably identifiable with this neighborhood. Intelligentsia is not even from here … they’re based out of Chicago and they’re all over the U.S.

      • Why are you so obsessed with a scumbag book store that sells meth pipes to the local addicts. Good riddance.

        • It’s not so much the specific business as what it represents. I hate seeing the rebel spirit being drowned out. That’s what it’s really about. If you’d read my comments it’s more about what happened to the whole essence of Silver Lake. That’s what I’m lamenting.

      • Where Intelligentsia is “from” doesn’t interest me at all. The Silverlake store is totally unique, completely ‘site-specific’ as they say and much less generic and ‘Westside’ than Black Cat, for example. When I’m sitting out in that little courtyard talking with my friends, I’m not really concerned with Intelligentsia’s annual report.

        I’m with you on Circus, though. At least you could buy a New York Times there.

        • But it’s actually the building that’s not generic. The business itself is very much a homogenized corporate being. Would you love Intelligentsia just as much if that whole Sunset Junction warren of buildings was torn down and a mixed-use was put up with Intelligentsia on the ground floor? Any brand of coffeehouse with decent coffee would work in it’s current location because of the building’s uniqueness. And that’s what I’m unhappy with … the uniqueness that’s disappearing; and that can be a building/s (like the little group of shops torn down illegally on Santa Monica at the Junction for what? A dirt lot?), a particular business model (Forage using produce from local home gardens … until the authorities shut that down) or a unique and specialized inventory that’s uncommon elsewhere in other neighborhoods. Heck, I LOVED that we had a coffee house called The Grassy Knoll with an attached used book store called The Book Depository. Totally un-PC and a bit outrageous. Wouldn’t have happened many other places in this town. Silver Lake going way back used to be a hotbed of anti-establishment and subversive thought. It was artistic, and bold and rough around the edges. A place for thinkers and societal misfits to congregate. That was the soul of this place. The vestiges of it lasted a long time and it got a shot in the arm when it became the center of the music scene in the late 80’s early 90’s, but that’s all gone now.
          You can put up the picket fences and whitewash everything and make it all shiny, and pretty and clean, but what was great was that the light and dark co-existed here. It was real. I liked that. People don’t seem to want real anymore.
          With that, I’m through here. I’ve said more than enough, I know. haha

        • Not to mention poppers when you needed them.

    • “The stuff I find disturbing is the Shinola, APC, SuperRetroFuture (RetroSuperFuture) that seem to be taking SL into the Abbot Kinney zone of high-end shopping mall.”

      THANK YOU for vocalizing what I couldn’t. People aren’t mad about businesses that happen to be hip, but have been in the area pre-2007. It’s this $500 watch and $300 shirt crap that’s making this area feel like a bad reincarnation of Melrose.

      • While I may not be able to afford the goods at Shinola or APC, I’d much rather they be present that the one off tacky “rock and roll” chic boutiques pedaling Affliction gear and boot cut jeans with embroidered pockets or vape shops which proliferate Melrose with utter abandon.

    • The place before Currywurst was called Nuevo Rincon. Contrary to your memory, lots of people went there- on sundays it was so busy you couldn’t get a seat! You didn’t go there but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t a “cultural touchstone” for other people.

  11. ooh look at me on the catwalk in my tiny dancing shoes. ooh look at this hat or look at that hat. ooh hats hats hats

  12. I’m going to bookmark this page so I can revisit and show others the place where I saw Circus of Books compared with the Empire State Building.

    • And you would be wrong. I was not referring in that post to Circus of Books, but rather commenting on the the belief of the poster that there is no value in respecting the past … that those who do are somehow stuck. Aren’t we glad that sometimes we do respect the past? If we didn’t we might not have things like the Empire State building.

      I also further down, at least twice, said “IT”S NOT SPECIFICALLY CIRCUS OF BOOKS I”M REFERRING TO”, but what it represents. It represents a certain culture that was present in SilverLake for many, many years that allowed places like that, and Casbah Café to survive as long as they did. That culture is no longer present. I get that if a business has no customers it shouldn’t stay around. I’m not suggesting Circus of Books shouldn’t close. If your read my very first post, and comprehended everything after, you’d realize that what I’m sad about is that SilverLake has become very mainstream, homogenized and un-interesting. While not fully corporatized, it’s the corporatized mindset. Personally, I like living in a place where I’m reminded that all different kinds of people exist, even if their tastes run to the outré. SilverLake used to fit that bill for many, many years. It does not anymore. That and that alone is the lament. Get it through your head.
      I am truly not commenting on here anymore, but I don’t like people misinterpreting my thoughts.

  13. I hope Rough Trade is staying.

  14. In 20 years this part of Sunset will either look like Melrose or Colorado in Old Pasadena. Which would you prefer?

  15. So sad! What will the locals do without this neighborhood icon, this stalwart? If only the locals had stepped up and bought 30% more meth pipes, and another 40% of porn magazines featuring sex trafficked girls and boys from Bulgaria and Mexico giving blowjobs in exchange for housing and to avoid death. Yes, the Silver Lake people will live in deep, deep regret.

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