Glenn Goldman, owner of Book Soup, dies at 58

Glenn Goldman, whose independent bookstore, Book Soup, became a Sunset Boulevard landmark known for its tall, teetering stacks and mazes of shelves crammed with titles that attracted entertainment and tourist industry clientele, died Saturday. He was 58.

Goldman died of pancreatic cancer just a day after announcing his decision to sell the legendary store, which opened in 1975 and offered an eccentric mix of works ranging from Star Maps to rare collectibles such as Helmut Newton’s $1,500 photo extravaganza, “SUMO.”

Goldman, who looked like anything but the stereotype of a big-city bookseller in his casual blue jeans, pullover shirts and Nike athletic shoes, was regarded as a superior businessman who prospered in an increasingly capricious market.

“Glenn brought a highly individual face to the Los Angeles bookselling business,” said Doug Dutton, who closed his own Brentwood bookstore, Dutton’s, in May. “He was a man of strong tastes and not shy about voicing his opinions. But even if you didn’t agree with them, you admired the integrity and honesty of the man behind them.”

Jonathan Kirsch, an author and frequent customer of Book Soup, said: “Every bookstore has its own personality. His store had the hippest image in town.” Founded across from Tower Records and the original Spago restaurant -- and bookended by head shops and strip joints -- “Book Soup was ground zero for a certain cool West Hollywood cultural vibe,” Kirsch said.

Born Oct. 3, 1950, in Long Beach, Goldman was enrolled in UCLA’s graduate school of management in the field of arts at the time he and friends collected about $50,000 in start-up funds and began doing research on where to open a bookstore.

They settled on the Sunset Strip. In an interview in 2000, Goldman recalled, “There had been a period of upheaval here in the ‘60s -- of thought and ideas -- and I felt that the people who lived in the neighborhood would and could really support a bookstore.”

After choosing a name, Goldman and his investors opened with a staff of two, including himself, then struggled for nearly two decades to survive. At one point, Goldman recalled: “I lived in the back of the store. Sold some of my belongings. I just didn’t want to concede to failure.”

In the late 1980s, he moved the store to more spacious digs a few blocks down the boulevard, where it quickly developed a reputation for art, photography, film and music books, and high-profile signing events featuring authors and celebrities including Gore Vidal, James Ellroy, Mikal Gilmore, Edward Albee, Robert Wagner and Tom Stoppard.

Goldman, a self-described “bookseller to the great and infamous,” would not argue with customers who suggested his store seemingly had a built-in crowd control problem compounded by a lack of space for more than 60,000 titles.

“Glenn was a compulsive over-orderer of books,” recalled Book Soup staffer Manny Chavarria. “We wouldn’t know where to put them all, so we stacked them up in sometimes precarious columns.”

Despite recession-plagued book markets nationwide, Goldman in 2002 opened a second, 4,000-square-foot location with a coffee bar at South Coast Plaza in Costa Mesa.

That store closed five years later, however, “because of high rent and the continuing impact of competition from and big-box stores, which discount heavily,” said Wendy Werris, West Coast correspondent for Publisher’s Weekly and a longtime friend of Goldman’s.

On Friday, Goldman decided to sell the store on the Sunset Strip.

“He knew he was going to die,” Werris said, “and he wanted his two young sons to have the money for their future.”

In a prepared statement, Book Soup general manager Tyson Cornell said, “Nobody here is looking for a new job. The store remains an extremely viable business, and the entire staff wants to carry on the legacy of Book Soup.”

Goldman’s survivors include his two sons, Joseph and Samuel.