It's been around the block

Anyone who has lived in the area for any length of time knows Once Upon A Time bookstore on Honolulu Avenue as the place to go for a book, a very special gift or just a place to let the kids go in and explore the literary world.

The bookstore has been a fixture in Montrose since 1966 and that distinction has earned them the title of being the oldest children's bookstore in the country, according to Publishers Weekly, a trade news magazine.

“We knew we were the oldest in Southern California but we didn't realize we were the oldest in the nation,” said owner Maureen Palacios.

The publication had been doing a story about children's bookstores throughout the nation and called Palacios with the news.

“To have someone else do the research was [great],” she said.

Jane Humphrey opened the original bookstore on North Verdugo Road. The store later moved to three locations along Honolulu Avenue. Its most recent move to 2207 Honolulu Ave. was made a little over a year ago.

The store remains a jewel in the Montrose Shopping Park, thanks to Palacios, who understood the community's love of the store. Until she purchased it in 2003, she and her two daughters, Amelia and Jessica, were among the stores' most loyal customers.

Palacios said that she wanted to keep the special quality alive that made the store unique, but also has made some changes to keep up with the ever-changing literary world. The “Harry Potter” series changed the booksellers' and readers' world forever, she said. Once Upon A Time met that change and added to the celebration of the series by having midnight parties when a Potter book was released.

“We are now having a party for the release of the next 'Twilight' series book,” she said.

“Twilight” is a series of books that have captured the imagination, and the hearts, of readers from teens to adults. Palacios is planning the same type of party to celebrate the release of the next installment, “Breaking Dawn.” The store has seen a very active presale of copies. Those who buy the book before the release date receive an invitation to the party.

But the charm to this bookstore is not the popular books that Palacios has on the shelves; it is the specialty books that are not the norm and the store's “home-like” feel. It is not uncommon to enter Palacios' store and see young children sitting on the giant stuffed dragon that is perched in front of a red barn. The children compare their favorite pirate and princess books. A perusal of the shelves will find books like “Children's Teatime: Tea Recipes A History of tea Etiquette” and the “summer must read” section that includes “The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” and “The Pearl.”

High school kids who have been coming to the store since they were in preschool, sit on pillows chairs and talk about books they love.

Palacios contributes her store's longevity to her own love of books. When asked about reading a book like “Pride and Prejudice” for the first time, she smiles as her memory drifts back.

“Oh, I love that book,” she said. She remembered the first time she read it. “Those are the days you could bottle up and save forever.”

As visitors walk in, Palacios and her employees welcome them with a smile and a great knowledge, not only of the books and items in the store, but the world of literature.

“I hire people that like to read,” Palacios said.

She added that many times parents would come into her store looking for a book that their child might like.

“We talk to parents about what their child likes to do,” Palacios said.

She and her crew of booksellers then comb through the eclectic library and find just the right book that will ignite the imagination.

To Palacios, finding the right book for the right age is very important. If it is too difficult, it could turn children away from reading, but if it is too simple, it will not challenge them.

“We will do the five finger test,” she said. “We turn to any page in the book the child, or parent, has chosen and see if they can read the passage out loud. If they miss or do not understand five words, then it's too hard.”


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