Story and photos by James Schneeweis
As many bookstores close or downscale, Echo Park’s Stories Books & Café continues to thrive and survive. On any given day, check out the bookstore or café to find readers enjoying a coffee, something on the menu, lounging through stacks of new and used books or busy on their laptops.
After two years ago this month, Stories owners Liz Garo and Claudia Colodro are still working hard. In a previous life, Garo worked as a music talent booker for Spaceland Productions and Book Soup before that. Colodro spent time as a social worker and sold books at Dutton’s North Hollywood. We caught up with Colodro to ask her a few questions.
Q: Why open a bookstore in Echo Park?
A: We both live nearby and have for a long time. Not necessarily in Echo Park but in the vicinity. In fact, I’m just moving from Echo Park to Eagle Rock so that’ll add 5 minutes to my commute. I feel like a spoiled child! But, we realized Echo Park didn’t have a bookstore nor did it really have a hang out, which is what Stories has lent to the neighborhood, too. A community meeting place, a new and used bookstore and a place to get great coffee.
Q: How has the bookstore been received?
A: The community, all of it, has been incredibly great in welcoming us and making us part of it. And this is a mixed community. Some residents have been here for decades, some are more recent members. Young, old, Latino, non-Latino…everyone has shown incredible support and gratitude.
Q: Who are your customers and who is buying books?
A: Hipsters hang out with their coffee and cigarettes in the back patio, young families bring their small children and read them books as well as meet other families and just about everyone who likes to read can pick up a great book to keep by their bedside. The nearby business community enjoys coming by on their lunch breaks and grabbing a sandwich. One of our top customers is the person working on their laptop (we have wi-fi available with a small purchase).
Q: What is Echo Park currently reading?
A: Some of the authors who sell tremendously and consistently are: Haruki Murakami, John Fante, Chuck Bukowski, Michel Houellebecq, Roberto Bolano, DF Wallace, Dave Eggers, Joan Didion, Mark E Smith, John Tottenham and Patti Smith!!
Q: What books usually do well in your store?
A: New and used contemporary literature and the lit classics in paperback … (bring in your unwanted copies and we’ll give you trade or cash for them). Kids books. Pop culture. Hobo lit. Weird and interesting stuff of all sorts.
Q: Talk about your events.
A: Our events are varied, we’ve hosted a gamut such as punk rock pioneer and goddess Lydia Lunch, who attracted a large and rowdy bunch, to our currently on-hiatus “StoryTimeFunLand” for kids. The kids would go wild for Daniel and Mindy and their train themed show! Rock n Roll for kids! Our resident events include bi-monthly Friday night Poetry, curated by Rafael Alvarado, who has long been in the business of building a poetry community in Los Angeles. We also host Friday Nite Knitting … for those who love to knit and chat. Homo-Centric is here every 3rd Thursday of the month, a gathering focused on the LGBT literary community. We have lots of events, local authors, art receptions. We had a writer’s workshop we hope to build upon next year with USC English professor Sid Stebel based upon it’s initial success. I would say we have an average of 2 events / week.
Q: Do events sell books?
A: Usually and if a certain event doesn’t sell books, it often brings people in for their 1st visit so they are always a boon.
Q: Does the food help sell books?
A: Of course! We are equally a café and bookshop. Both “sides” bookend the space not only because a café and a bookstore fit well together but also because they make up equal parts of the business, they need each other. Without the café, the bookstore would not be here.
Q: What do you have planned for the future?
A: To continue to build our business. That’s probably a constant in any successful business today. Change but keep the basic structure…
Q: What do you wish for?
A: That people continue to come in, that they continue to like being here and that they feel more and more like they couldn’t live without us because we can’t live without them.
Q: When someone tells you books are going away, how do you respond?
A: Seriously? The self-published book is definitely a sign of the times, and /or the self-actualized work applies to all arts, I believe. It’s the time of “indie” releases, whether its music or literature, the rise of DIY is here. I love that people have taken matters into their own hands. Some galleries and clubs book mainly acts that have not been released through major labels or have agents or in our bookstore’s case, have publishing houses. In many ways, I see this phenomena, grassroots if you will, to be a direct reflection of the changes in publishing for books, and all other forms of art as well. The age of the super-sellers and mega-watt stars is impossible to compete in so…people do it themselves! And being an independent bookshop, we support that all the way!
Q: How have the changes in the publishing world affected your business the last few years?
A: Hard to answer this since we really started the store as the publishing world had already begun it’s changes. All we know is a crappy economy and the birth of Kindle. I try and think of it this way: We started at the bottom so there’s only up from here.
Q: How will you celebrate your two year anniversary?
A: We are having a party!! A thank you for supporting us and anniversary party that you are all invited to! Wednesday, November 24th @ 7:30pm. Thanksgiving Eve, very apropos, wouldn’t you say! We are 2 years old as of November 19th.
James Schneeweis is a writer who lives in Echo Park