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A chapter continues at Orange County’s used and rare bookstores

Hidden treasures tucked into bookcases wait to be discovered.

Nestled within an unassuming shopping plaza, a bookstore’s display window houses titles that may not be on a mainstream bestsellers list, but nonetheless are highly recommended by storekeepers.

Hard covers still release a crackling noise when opened and some shelves stock yellowed pages and creased spines of well-lived books.

Books like these can be found within the handful of used and rare bookstores left in Orange County. They’re locations with one-of-a-kind finds and many types of customers who fervently hope they stick around.

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“Independent bookstores are so personable but they’re getting harder and harder to find,” said Diane Benson of Westminster. “The Barnes & Noble types or online ordering are the only two reasons I can think of as far as why they won’t be here forever. But I want them to.”

Benson frequents the Book Carnival in Orange, an independent bookstore specializing in mystery, suspense and thrillers.

The location, owned by Orange resident Anne Saller, carries items such as first editions, books on consignment, $1 books and books signed by authors at Book Carnival events.

At the store, Saller said she enjoys giving people reading recommendations and setting aside titles she knows specific customers will fancy.

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“I like to get to know what their reading tastes are,” Saller said. “I just feel it’s an extra service that small independent stores are able to provide to customers.”

Various books past and present in the front room of Book Carnival in Orange. Owner Ann Saller makes
Books line the front room of Book Carnival in Orange. Owner Ann Saller makes posters from book covers to decorate the shop.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer )

David Hess, co-owner of Bookman in Orange, said it’s the browsers who have kept stores like his in business.

“Everything changed with the internet,” Hess said. “There were around 30-some used bookstores in Orange County in the ’90s. We used to have a guide map on our counter, but little by little they’ve gone out of business.”

Bookman, which sells used and out-of-print books, carries around 300,000 items in sections like cooking, sports and romance, among other genres.

A wall for juvenile fiction is fully stacked with series like “Junie B. Jones.”

Bill Anderson, owner of Mathom House Books, Inc. in San Clemente said his store aims to provide a good browsing experience.

“We get families, kids, history buffs — all sorts of customers,” Anderson said about the store’s location, which offers books around the $5 range. “We like to focus on what’s classic, what’s fundamental and what’s in vogue.”

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The store also features shelves for VHS tapes of movies like the first “Jurassic Park” and “The Land Before Time” series.

For Anderson, a bookstore offers something online orders cannot.

“You can’t really see the condition of the items and a search engine can only go so far when it comes to recommendations,” Anderson said. “Here, you have the ability to talk to us.”

BookTown USA owner Thomas Pesce remembered a customer had trouble finding a John Steinbeck memoir. When the book came in, Pesce saved it for him.

Pesce has owned the Anaheim bookshop for 15 years.

“Many walk in [the store] with a happy sigh,” Pesce said. “They love the smell and say, ‘It’s nice that a bookstore is still around, don’t ever close.’ Nothing stays around forever, but it’s still nice to hear that.”

Some stores have explored different ways to attract an audience.

Book Off, a large Japan-based chain of used bookstores with locations in Costa Mesa and Westminster, first opened with books only but has branched out with additional items like CDs, DVDs, games and items carried online.

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“We have started introducing different items like electronics, cameras, TVs and music instruments,” said Megumu Inagaki, the manager of online sales for Book Off USA. “We have to modify what we need to sell to continue with business. We want to offer a kind of place where customers can find some kind of discovery that they don’t expect.”

Owner Anne Saller proudly stands in the front room of Book Carnival, where she hosts a book club to
Owner Anne Saller stands in the front room of Book Carnival in Orange, where she hosts a book club and offers a variety of used books. .
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer )

At Book Carnival, Saller organizes a book club and book signings, using social media to interest customers. A central area in the store offers a space for the events.

“I love the environment here,” said Faith Macneil, a book club member. “[Anne] works hard to run the book club, to get authors here and she does a great job of keeping business going.”

Bookman staff said they suspect customers are drawn to used and rare books because they stir up a feeling of being connected to the past.

Some business owners said they believe it’s either the thrill of the hunt or the search for escape within their stacks that pulls people through their shop doors.

While these pleasures may be simple, they’ve also proven priceless in keeping doors open.

“I think bookstores will be around for a long time,” Pesce said. “They just have to find their niche, be in a specific neighborhood and have a loyal clientele.”

Alex Chan is a contributor to Times Community News.


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