Browsers in Paradise

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Arcana is a bookstore so thoughtfully out-of-step with the times that customers here tend to feel like members of a personalized book club. Founded 10 years ago by Lee Kaplan, Arcana specializes in art, photography, design and all related visual subjects. Monographs, pamphlets, show catalogues and ephemera; current releases from obscure small art presses to the big coffee-table variety; rare and scarce to just plain unusual titles line two sides of a modern gray concrete space, with more than an equal number of titles in the back rooms.

Kaplan’s offhand, encyclopedic mind not only knows where everything is, he’ll telephone you six or 12 months after a casual inquiry with a matter-of-fact mention that he found what you were looking for, bought it and several other treasures that might interest you; and if--only if--you are still interested, he will hold it for you until you feel like coming in.

Film companies use Arcana as a resource for set design; art dealers have relied on the immense range of the store for collectors’ references; photography nuts come here for the obscure and forgotten.


With none of the snobbery of an antiquarian shop, Arcana is a browser’s paradise and user-friendly, exceedingly modern in temperament and selection. Ancient and pop cultures mingle here freely. It’s the kind of place where, in the same conversation, you can ask for a copy of Danny Lyon’s seminal paperback of biker photos from the 1960s (“The Bikeriders”) and a 1932 portfolio of botanical gravures by Karl Blossfeldt (“Wundergarten de Natur”) and have both show up, dreamlike, in your hands, along with a few things you didn’t know existed but you now must have.

The staff, who are as versed as the founder in the eccentricities of the store, seem to treat the work as an extension of their other lives as artists and musicians. This is bookstore shopping at its most sublime. Located on the same stretch of the Third Street Promenade in Santa Monica as Hennessey & Ingalls, Arcana is a resort destination unto itself.

Arcana is located at 1229 Third St. (310) 458-1499.