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Family Books is latest L.A. seller to fall victim to the pandemic

Interior of Family Books at 436 N. Fairfax Ave. in Los Angeles.
Interior of Family Books at 436 N. Fairfax Ave. in Los Angeles. Book sales were severely affected by the pandemic and as a result, the store has closed its doors for good.
(David Jacob Kramer)

Family Books, an idiosyncratic independent bookseller on Fairfax Avenue in Los Angeles, has announced it will soon cease operations as a brick-and-mortar store. It’s the latest casualty of a COVID-19-depressed economy in which local booksellers have told The Times their sales have dropped 50% to 70%. Owner David Jacob Kramer says Family’s near-total shutdown eliminated some 98% of the store’s revenue.

“We didn’t have the kind of business that could function for curbside pickup; that’s not what we’re about” he said. “We’re a place to hang out. It was antithetical to our M.O.

“It was already operating by the skin of its teeth without profit being in any way like a goal; it was simply to survive. We had a good run, and I’m really proud of what we did.”

A statement emailed to customers Wednesday with the subject line “Family Books closes (2007 - 2021)” read: “It’s with much emotion that we announce we are closing. It’s been over 14 years of celebrating books that we love with people we love in a narrow shop that opens at 1 pm. Longer than we ever imagined and way more gratifying.

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“Family has always been a labor of love rather than a profitable venture: a place for people to share their own books, discover new ones, connect, and participate.”

Like their peers across the U.S., booksellers in L.A. are adjusting to partially reopening their stores for curbside pickup amid the coronavirus.

Founded by childhood friends David Jacob Kramer and Sammy Harkham and Harkham’s wife, Tahli, the store is known for its carefully curated collection of books, zines, vinyl records, cassette tapes, clothing and movies. It includes a gallery and performance space and has branched out to publishing as well, reissuing out-of-print works.

“We always wanted it to be kind of a living space, a place for people to get together and share ideas and share the work they made in a way that was accessible to everyone. Young people can make things and sell their things there,” said Kramer.

“We were ordering stuff from Japan, China, Europe, South America. Anyone can go in there and buy a $5 zine or not buy anything; go in there and look around. It became kind of a community space.”

Family Books is known for its carefully curated collection of books, zines, vinyl records, tapes, clothing and movies.
Family Books is known for its carefully curated collection of books, zines, vinyl records, cassette tapes, clothing and movies.
(David Jacob Kramer)

However, like so many booksellers, it was hit hard by the economic shutdown caused by the pandemic. Well-known stores such as Diesel in Brentwood, Book Soup in Hollywood and Vroman’s in Pasadena and Hastings Ranch, as well as the iconic City Lights Bookstore in San Francisco, have turned to online fundraisers and other pleas for donations in desperate attempts to survive. Some long-established concerns such as University Press Books in Berkeley and Wolfman Books in Oakland have shuttered for good.

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According to Family Books’ announcement, the store‘s inventory is marked down 30% for the next two weeks. Kramer said if there is anything left after that, he’ll keep the doors open a little longer.

In the end, Kramer remembered the beginning: “The opening ... it was the first party we had. It’s kind of magical to do something like this when you’re young, and you’re really excited about it and you love it. There was a massive party, and we had some local bands — No Age and Lavender Diamond played. There were so many people there. I was like, ‘Oh, my God. This is something tenable, that there’s this energy around and it’s fun.’

“I feel like the community really delivered on their role in this interaction; it was really supported by the community in so many ways. I would need someone to cover a shift, and someone would say, ‘Hey, I’ll just hang out here on Sunday; just give me a book.’ That’s what kept it going.”

The announcement concluded, “Family Books will continue to exist in new incarnations, as a publishing imprint and with roaming events. Stay tuned.”


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