An uncertain chapter for bookstores

Worlds fill the walls of Brian Draper’s Burbank bookstore — global maps, a “histomap” offering a timeline of human events, a 4-foot high map of California. These worlds are about to come down.

After nearly 25 years, Draper is on the verge of closing Geographia Map & Travel Bookstore on Riverside Drive. The store carries pocket guides to Barcelona and Paris, travel literature, topographic maps, phrase books, money belts and even adaptors that allow travelers to juice up their smart phones at French chateaux.

But those smart phones are part of Draper’s problem. Just as Amazon.com and eBooks have undermined the brick-and-mortar book business, portable navigation systems, Google Maps and other apps have hurt the map trade.

“A lot of people wouldn’t have any use for a printed map,” Draper said. “There are just not enough customers to make it a thriving business. Times have just changed.”

Draper, 58, is a Burbank native who for many years worked at Don’s, his father’s restaurant on Glenoaks Boulevard, which changed hands years ago. He earned a geography degree from Cal State Northridge and opened his shop in 1986.

He’s not the only one to feel the pinch. Chain stores such as Barnes & Noble and Borders are struggling alongside independent stores. In January, the Mystery Bookstore in Westwood Village closed, citing in a note to customers “the Amazons of the world and the impact of the economy.”

Jerome Joseph, owner of Brand Bookshop in Glendale, said threats from the Internet and new technology are ominous.

Business at his used-book shop is down 30% from a normal, pre-recession year, he said.

“If it ever improves, it will be slow,” he added.

Store manager Noriaki Nakano said Brand Bookshop benefits from the proximity to Borders and Barnes & Noble, both of which are a few blocks away and neither carry used or out-of-print books. Nonetheless, he said Brand Bookshop has scaled back on employee shifts and hours of operation.

Last year, it stopped paying cash for used books, offering only in-store credit. The store does a modest business selling art and architecture books through collector websites, but Nakano said marketing all his stock online would require more staff and an expensive inventory system.

“If the book economy stays the way it is, we can survive,” Nakano said. “If it gets worse, that’s a different issue.”

Lenora Wannier, co-owner of Flintridge Bookstore & Coffeehouse in La Cañada Flintridge, said the future of bookstores isn’t just about books any more.

“You have to be prepared to be flexible,” Wannier said.

Flintridge moved into a new location this month. It offers java and gift items, and hosts school book fairs and signing events. It offers customers access to a digital printing press that downloads, prints and binds books, whether the user’s own work or one of thousands of existing titles.

Wannier and her husband, Peter, plan to begin selling iPads and other computer tablets. Yet after four years in business, including a 2009 episode when a truck crashed into the store’s former location, Wannier said Flintridge Bookstore is still reaching toward break-even. Independent bookstores need customers dedicated to locally owned businesses, she said.

“If we provide the right books, events and a wonderful buying experience, we can make it work,” Wannier said. “But you have to have the cooperation of the public.”

Draper let the last Geographia employee go in 2005. He has manned the desk himself ever since. Recently his landlord notified him of a rent increase.

The landlord has been generous and he doesn’t hold a grudge, but he said the increase was the last straw.

“I am going to try to sell the business if I can,” Draper said. “Barring that, I will just liquidate.”

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