Rocco Ingala and Luisa Lorona figured Whittier could use another used bookstore--even though there are eight others within a five-minute walk in the Uptown area.
Unlike the huge discount bookstores that sell everything from A to Z, the Uptown-area bookstores specialize.
“Each shop has its own little niche,” Ingala said. “We don’t look at it as competition. We look at all the shops as more of an attraction that will draw people into the community.”
The Insomnia Bookstore, Gallery, Gifts, which Ingala and Lorona opened late last year on Philadelphia Street, features literature and poetry by local authors.
Down the street, Valdez Books & Bindery offers the town’s largest collection of Latino, Western Americana and 19th-Century British literature. Bookland carries new books of popular titles, while Anderson’s Book Shop has an extensive collection of used science fiction and fantasy. Los Tlacuilos Bribiescas carries art and literature about indigenous Americans.
The bookstores, along with new restaurants and a renovated theater, are the cornerstone of an aggressive effort to rejuvenate an Uptown area that was hit hard by the 1987 Whittier earthquake.
Along Greenleaf Avenue, visitors can stroll at night among trees decked out with tiny bright lights. Shoppers can dine on Italian or Japanese cuisine, sip exotic blends at one of several new coffeehouses, browse through art galleries and flip through an array of new and used books.
The number of evening shoppers has grown from virtually nil two years ago to the point where it is difficult to find parking along Uptown’s streets, especially on Fridays and Saturdays.
Six bookstores were operating at the time of the quake and most were forced to close at least temporarily. Five eventually reopened and have been joined by four new bookstores in the area.
Insomnia Bookstore, the newest, occupies a building that was rebuilt following the 1987 quake. The shelves have been stocked with more than 15,000 titles of ethnically diverse literature, poetry, philosophy and religion. But the owners hope to keep their roomy store stuffed with an eclectic hodgepodge of local writing and artwork, including “chap” books, self-published works by little-known Whittierites and other authors.
One writer, Tanya Hyonhye Ko, a Biola University graduate who immigrated to the United States from Korea in 1982, tells of adjusting to U.S. culture while retaining her native culture. Her book of poems is entitled “Generation One Point Five.”
Ingala hopes the store “will allow me to pay the rent, eat and provide some culture to the people of Whittier.” He and Lorona also edit “Insomnia,” a literature and art magazine.
Several Uptown bookstore owners said their business is somewhat sporadic, but profit is not always the bottom line.
“It’s all pretty much about a love of books,” said Brad Cormier, owner of The Book Stop, a section of bare, concrete floor cordoned off by a row of simple wood shelves in the basement below Valdez Books. When business is slow, he reads--two or three books a week--or writes. He’s working on a novel.