Bookstore of the week: Small World Books in Venice

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Mary Goodfader moved her bookstore to the Venice Boardwalk in 1976 after seven years in Marina del Rey. When she and her husband Robert found the space that now holds Small World Books and the Sidewalk Cafe, the building was empty, she says, covered with graffiti like “stop bombing in Cambodia.” They bought the building and divided responsibilities: She ran the bookstore and Robert ran the cafe along the boardwalk, which faces the sea. The restaurant is “pretty much the reason the bookstore can exist,” Goodfader says. “As long as people want to buy hamburgers, I’ll keep it going.”

Today the spray paint is gone; graffiti offerings can be found instead among the art books. The bookstore, which is about 2,000 square feet, has a good selection of contemporary fiction and nonfiction, as well as travel books, cultural studies, mysteries, science fiction, young adult and art books. Last year the store moved some bookshelves to create space to hang art; it’s now one of the anchors of the Venice Art Crawl, which happens on the third Thursday of every month.


Art books on display include this by original guerrilla pasteup artist Robbie Conal, a local, who blazed the trail later followed by Shepard Fairey. Below, a display near the front of the store showcases new hardcover fiction and literary journals, including Slake, Juncture, Zyzzyva, Granta and Tin House.

Below, owner Mary Goodfader, third from left, with, from left, manager Bonnie Reynolds, daughter Deb Loucks and staffer Janice Mall. Reynolds says it’s a great place to work -- she’s been there for 27 years. The store’s token male is Conan, the bookstore cat, whom Deb is holding. His full name is Conan the Librarian.

Immediately upon walking in the door, there’s a display of books that were featured in the N.Y. Times and L.A. Times book pages over the weekend (hey, thanks!) and a display of detailed staff-recommended books. If you like the recommendations, don’t take photos of them with your phone, then go buy them on Amazon -- it’s Mary’s pet peeve.

Small World Books has a good selection of poetry, found along the way to mystery and science fiction. The store can be found at the L.A. Times Festival of Books poetry stage. “It’s wonderful to see people turn out and get excited about poetry,” Mary Goodfader says.

Below, light flows in from the windows at the front of the store, which are actually along the back of the sidewalk cafe.

Soon after they got started, a company called Cheap Skates began renting roller skates out of a truck nearby: it was the beginning of the roller-disco craze, bringing new life to the boardwalk. These days, you’re more likely to bump into a skateboarder there -- in 2009, the Venice Beach Skate Plaza opened directly between Small World Books and Cafe and the ocean.


These days, the beach side of the boardwalk is lined with entertainers -- mostly musicians playing for tips from passers-by. Only one, however, brought his own piano -- he was right across from the cafe, alternating performances with a guitar player playing Jimi Hendrix and James Taylor.

Small World Books provides a cool and calm place to step away from the sunny, noisy boardwalk.

Local author T.C. Boyle’s fiction takes up a large portion of a bookshelf. Will they have room for his new novel, “When the Killing’s Done”? It’s coming Feb. 22.

Charles Bukowski isn’t found on the shelves near Boyle -- he’s got a section of his own, directly in the sightline of the person working behind the counter. That’s because Bukowski’s books were the most frequently stolen from the store; once Mary came in and the entire Bukowski stock had been lifted at once, books that took up more than two feet on the shelf, far more than could be stuffed in a backpack. “All we could think was that somebody brought in a baby stroller,” says Goodfader, shaking her head.

Some vandals had a different goal: They’d cut off any science fiction paperback’s cover that featured a dragon. The store simply stopped stocking some books that were popular with shoplifters, like tattoo books. “Banksy we can’t even keep on the shelf,” daughter Deb says. She helps her mother out at the store in many ways, ordering the graphic novels and organizing participation in the art crawl. Her paintings hang above the books along one side of the store.

Venice Beach is home to some famous characters, apart from those available on the postcards for sale. Those who’ve stopped in at the store include actors John Cleese and Paul Giamatti, filmmaker Tony Bill, musician Andy Summers and artists Ed Ruscha and Robert Graham. Writer James Frey was “a great friend of the store,” says Mary Goodfader. “We liked him a lot.” He did two signings there; these days, the store rarely hosts book signings.


The office for the bookstore and restaurant are on the second floor; above that is a newly installed deck of solar panels. Goodfader’s husband Robert died in 2002; now their son Ty manages the cafe.

The menu has a literary flavor, with sandwiches named “thesaurus,” “Mario Puzo,” “library,” and burgers named after writers Pablo Neruda, Colette, Dylan Thomas and Charles Dickens. Below, the Larry McMurtry burger.

The balcony, Mary Goodfader says, has a wonderful view of the boardwalk, the skate park and the ocean.

Small World Books is at 1407 Ocean Front Walk.

-- Carolyn Kellogg