A Visit to The Last Bookstore
Los Angeles’ Best Kept Literary Secret
In the heart of downtown Los Angeles, I discovered a reservoir of quietude. It’s a peaceful refuge for Creatives and others longing to escape from the city’s frenzied pace, if only for a moment. I joined the dreamers and writers, book lovers and music enthusiasts, artists and eclectics, and curious travelers who passed through the oversized door on 5th Street. This oasis was The Last Book Store. Turns out, it’s California’s largest used and new book and record store. It’s also one of the largest independent bookstores in the world.
Over the last decade, independent booksellers have been in a state of decline across the United States. But not The Last Book Store in Los Angeles. In 2005, Josh Spencer established this indie bookstore in a Los Angeles loft.
According to The Last Bookstore’s website, they are “amazed” at their growth in becoming California’s largest used and new book and record store. Now, in its third incarnation, it’s housed within two stories of the Spring Arts Tower on 5th and Spring Street in Downtown Los Angeles.
The Last Bookstore fills 22,000 square feet and holds a hefty collection of about 250,000 new and used books. It is also home to a large record collection, art space (“The Spring Arts Collective“), unique shops, and–be still my heart!–a Rare Books annex.
Part of My Tour of Los Angeles
My daughter, Alison, introduced me to The Last Bookstore on my recent visit to Los Angeles, California. We’d planned a full day before I’d have to catch my flight home to Boston. It included stops at the OUE Skyspace L.A, The Writer’s Guild Library, The Bradbury Building, The Last Bookstore, and Manhattan Beach. (We’re ambitious!)
Alison spoke often of The Last Bookstore. It’s a refuge of creature comforts for the creative to immerse themselves in music, art, and literature. I didn’t fully understand the extraordinary appeal until I saw for myself.
When we arrived, The Last Bookstore hummed with activity. Guests browsed bookshelves and sat on hip red couches beneath marble columns that dominate the space formerly occupied by a bank. With an arched ceiling, balconies, and a mezzanine level, the architecture is reminiscent of the Newport Rhode Island Mansions but without the pretense. Instead, whimsical touches accent the space.
Alison pointed out the Writing Reference section and Creative Nonfiction genre (her favorite), then flipped through the LP records and 45s that filled an entire wing to the right.
I wasn’t expecting California’s largest used and new book and record store to have such personality! For instance, check out the checkout counter made of stacked books. Also, did you notice the wooly mammoth bust?
Used and Rare Books
In a smaller area to the left of the entrance, you’ll find The Arts and Rare Books Annex. This area is a treasure of rare finds, the most valuable books locked behind glass. I imagined running my fingers over the depressed type with the inky aroma, paging through a leather-bound first edition. (Dream on.)
The Capt. Thomas Morris’ 1791 Miscellanies in Prose and Verse, a journal bound in half calf leather and marbleized boards, caught my attention. I thought, how ironic that words of a Captain buried so long ago in my home state (Massachusetts) journeyed all the way to the west coast for me to find. It was a mere $3000, and, to a bibliophile, I’m sure worth every penny.
The 2nd Floor Mezzanine – Whimsical Art Installations & More
After I’d devoured almost every inch of the first floor, I ascended two flights of hand-lettered risers to the Mezzanine level. Here, the Last Bookstore shared its more intimate quirkiness beyond being California’s largest used and new book and record store.
At the top of the stairs, I stood mesmerized by a whimsical still life. I absorbed every bit of this disproportionate curiosity, from the pages spewing from the typewriter to flying books to the wastebasket stacked like a Christmas tree. I’d say they captured the organized chaos of my creative process! I began to love these creators, whoever they were.
I absorbed every bit of this disproportionate curiosity, from the pages spewing from the typewriter to flying books to the wastebasket stacked like a Christmas tree. I'd say they captured the organized chaos of my creative process!… Click To Tweet
As I navigated rows of books placed on the random diagonal (“The Labarynth Above The Last Bookstore”), I spied a hole cut through a wall of books. This made me chuckle, and I further appreciated my newfound loves’ sense of humor.
In a vault formerly used by the bank, a space containing part of the sci-fi and horror collection included H. P. Lovecraft books and the likes. (I didn’t spend time contemplating other maniacal accouterments in this room.)
I especially loved the section dedicated to color. I don’t mean the books’ subject matter was color; the books were sorted by color. How unusual! Brilliant idea if you’re looking for books to accent your home decor.
Unique Shops & Exhibits
I traveled the aged planks squaring the perimeter of the second floor, and browsed a series of small interesting shops. Among other curiosities, one had a floor of pennies. I found old typewriters, vintage cameras, and stacks of worn luggage. (They understood my passions as no other!)
My grandfather’s Remington Rand Model 5 typewriter holds a place of honor in my home office. Walking through this holy ground, I wondered whether I dare smuggle home its twin, shown second from the left. I mean, it is a travel typewriter… Instead, I moved along.
Spring Arts Collective
The Spring Arts Collective hosts art exhibits throughout the year on the second floor of The Last Bookstore. I enjoyed many works on display when I visited.
Many art installations, like this one with windows overlooking Downtown L.A., piqued my curiosity and encouraged me to stretch beyond my limiting beliefs as only art can do.
I took inspiration from a giant fiber art piece that looked to me like a dream catcher. Scaling floor to ceiling, it spoke: “Dream big, baby. Dream big!”
With so many talented artists showing, I will say the exhibit space alone is worth a return visit to California’s largest used and new book and record store.
Well Crafted and One-of-a-Kind
There’s no shortage of well-crafted and one-of-a-kind pieces at The Last Bookstore.
A bench made with a Chevy truck gate was one of the numerous custom-made items for sale. This particular shop was closed when I visited, but I glimpsed some very unique items through the glass.
Further along, I found Gather DTLA, a yarn and fiber shop prefaced by a giant canvas cleverly depicting two women. Crocheted. In yarn. In great detail. Wow.
Inside, the store is stocked with organic and hand-dyed yarns and goods, as well as supplies for knitting, crochet, and spinning. I know Gather DTLA would appeal to anyone who appreciates such fine materials and craftsmanship.
California’s Largest Used and New Book and Record Store
What I found most refreshing about The Last Bookstore is it’s not like typical places you’d go to find books. There is no mall attached to it. No uniform rows of over-marketed books. No lattes. No kitschy art. No library cards or overdue fines. No shushing.
Instead, The Last Bookstore offers a uniquely personal experience. It’s an old friend, an anthropomorphism of the creative spirit, an inventive playground, a haven for the like-minded.
I now understood my daughter’s affinity to the place. I could spend hours here. Days, even.
As our excursion ended, Alison presented me with a little brown bag acquired somewhere within The Last Bookstore when I wasn’t looking. I crinkled the paper to retrieved two stickers: Mulder and Scully (of X-Files fame) captioned, “The Truth is Out There” and “I Want to Believe.”
The ever hopeful words resonated with me, especially as I stood before the successful independent bookstore that is California’s largest used and new book and record store: The Last Book Store. Yes, this is a place for hopeful dreamers.The Last Book Store offers a uniquely personal experience. It's an old friend, an anthropomorphism of the creative spirit, an inventive playground, a haven for the like-minded. #lastbookstorela #creativespirit… Click To Tweet