In his home in Los Angeles among several wood and porcelain cat statuettes, 85-year-old Jerome Joseph sat next to his modest collection of about 100 books and his cat, Takei, which he describes as the best cat in L.A.
His small cache at home belies the estimated 100,000 volumes in his shop on Brand Boulevard in Glendale.
Joseph opened Brand Bookshop 27 years ago with his business partner, Larry Mullen, a science fiction enthusiast who suggested the idea back when bookstores were still thriving.
“I didn’t know anything about the book business,” Joseph said.
The Brand Bookshop began its run what in what was once Brand Jewelry. The bookshop expanded over the years from a single room to what it is now four rooms full of books.
“It’s hard to name a book we don’t have,” Joseph said.
The now-defunct Crown Bookstore, which primarily sold new titles, had a booming business down the street, giving Joseph the idea of opening a used shop nearby. The store opened in 1985 and, after Mullen left in 1993, Joseph started working with his adopted son, Noriaki Nakano.
A portrait of a robot in a post-apocalyptic world painted by a former employee, Robert Sato, is propped against a high bookcase. Red and green garlands are taped to the counter, and a white wire Christmas tree, a toy soldier propped up on a book shelf and a Santa figure round out the front display.
A copy of Rolling Stone’s “Encyclopedia of Rock and Roll” sits in the window, next to a copy of Allan Watt’s “The Joyous Cosmology.” Inside, the store has a selection of signed first editions, several shelves on California history, and even “Complete Idiot” tomes for computer software from the last century.
Haik Shagoulian, a math teacher at Hoover High School, has been coming to the shop for two decades. On a recent morning, he browsed for math and physics textbooks.
“It’s close to where I live and one of the few that lets you trade books with them,” he said.
The used-book business, however, is a tough one.
“Business was good around 1993 up to about 2003 and that’s when business began to really slow because of the Internet and the economy, Nokano said. “Lots of bookstores are downsizing or closing right now.”
Nokano said that sales at Brand Bookshop are down by 30% to 40%.
“Business is very slow,” Joseph said. “I’ve had to cut hours. During the holiday season, hopefully, it will pick up.”
From Nov. 29 to Dec. 24, the store is offering a 25% discount and no sales tax on all used books.
Joseph broke his hip in July after tripping on a wire at the bookshop, and has been unable to tend to the store until recently. He came back to work on Wednesday, but is only working a few hours a day.
“This is everything he has,” Nokano said. “We’re not thinking about selling, but if Jerome doesn’t recover, then I have to think about what’s best for him. Jerome or the store.”
Alexandra Duncan is a freelance writer.
Follow Web Producer Sameea Kamal on Twitter: @SameeaKamal.