Betting on books

Jane Hanauer wants to make one thing clear: She does not detest Barnes & Noble.

The owner of Laguna Beach Books operates one of the few surviving independent bookstores in Orange County — a region that, unlike Seattle or San Francisco, doesn't offer many non-chain alternatives. Anyone who appreciates booksellers with a quirky personal touch can probably check off the ones that have vanished in recent years: Latitude 33 Bookshop in Laguna, the Green Door in San Juan Capistrano, and so on.

Hanauer, though, has no qualms about referring people to the retail giant if they're seeking a book she doesn't carry. As far as she's concerned, her store and Barnes & Noble are united in supporting a cause. And instead of B&N;, it could be abbreviated as B&M; — which is to say, brick and mortar.

"I think even for Barnes & Noble, they feel the same realistic threat from Amazon and online purchasing, which is the biggest problem for independent bookstores and probably the biggest problem for Barnes & Noble," Hanauer said Feb. 8 in the storage room of her shop at 1200 S. Coast Hwy. "You know, you have your physical space. You pay rent. You have employees. You deal with the public. You're open seven days a week.

"And it's very, very hard for people who do that to compete with someone who's sending things through the mail but doesn't have to have an actual physical store or that kind of customer service that we can give here at the store."

Hanauer, a longtime Laguna Beach resident, opened the store in 2006 in the Old Pottery Place, a small shopping center in the building formerly occupied by the Pottery Shack. Her husband, Joe Hanauer, owns the entire complex, which features seven other shops as well as office space.

With a staff of eight employees, Hanauer does her best to give the store a neighborhood feel. The area behind the front door features a rack in the shape of the Main Beach lifeguard tower, while the shelves sport handwritten notes offering the staff's latest recommendations. Laguna Beach Books' website includes a "Top Sellers" page listing local favorites.

Last month, Hanauer got a choice thumbs-up for her enterprise: The Laguna Beach Chamber of Commerce gave it the Spirit of Laguna Award for Retail Store of the Year.

Kristine Thalman, executive director of the chamber, said Hanauer's store was unique in Laguna as a new-book business; the city's other retailers, Barnaby Rudge Booksellers and the Friends of the Laguna Beach Library Book Shop, specialize in used volumes.

"For that HIP District area, they're an attraction," Thalman said.

To help maintain foot traffic, the store regularly hosts events, with a monthly book club and at least one or two author appearances in a typical week. Sometimes, the staff brings in marquee names; when Kathy Griffin came in to sign her 2010 memoir, "Official Book Club Selection," about 500 people lined up around the block, Hanauer said.

Other times, the store gives a boost to neighborhood authors. Niki Smart, a Laguna resident who self-published her first book, "Hell Camp: How to Chew on a Crazy Childhood and Avoid Choking," approached Hanauer last year about hosting a reading and was pleasantly surprised when the owner accepted.

Smart, a member of the store's book club, said she ended up selling nearly 40 copies at the reading in September. The kicker, though, was when the staff displayed "Hell Camp" afterward by the cash register.

"My book was next to Keith Richards', which I really enjoyed," Smart said.

Twitter: @MichaelMillerHB

Laguna Beach Books

Where: 1200 S. Coast Hwy, Laguna Beach

Hours: 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily

Information: (949) 494-4779 or


Browse Around

Orange County may not be the largest mecca for independent bookstores, but you can still find a few between the Barnes & Nobles. Here are some other prominent local ones:


1445 Glenneyre St., Laguna Beach

Founded: 1992

Specialty: Antiquated and used books

Secret to success? “First of all, in this business, having a lot of really good reference material, things that aren't readily available online, is vital. And really learning the business and doing something you love is important.” — Ed Postal, owner

More info: (949) 497-4079 or 


3424 Via Oporto, Newport Beach

Founded: 2002

Specialty: None

Secret to success? “It's the personal touch, you know — helping people with books. They give me an idea of what they enjoy, and I'll help them choose books.” — Dan Schmenk, owner

More info: (949) 673-2549


308 1/2 Marine Ave., Newport Beach

Founded: 1989

Specialty: None

Secret to success? “Knowing the books, being able to recommend them. If you can get to know your customer, you can know what they want.” — Stephanie Thomas, co-owner

More info: (949) 673-7185


8907 Warner Ave., No. 135, Huntington Beach

Founded: 1991

Specialty: Mysteries

Secret to success? “Perseverance. It's a tough business to be in.” — Debbie Mitsch, owner

More info: (714) 960-4000 or 


145 Broadway, Costa Mesa

Founded: 2012

Specialty: None official, but a large romance section (the store bought the stock of its predecessor, New & Recycled Romances)

Secret to success? “I think the biggest thing is that we really bend over backward to look for that book or order that book that that person really needs. Any search is not too hard — it's like going on a treasure hunt.” — Sharon Patch, co-owner

More info: (949) 645-0529


4199 Campus Drive, Irvine

Founded: 1989

Specialty: Children's books

Secret to success? “We have a good selection. This is a children's bookstore for kids of all ages with all kinds of children's titles. And if we don't have it, we can get it.” — Alexandra Uhl, owner

More info: (949) 854-8288 or


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