By Darlene Donloe
On a warm, sunny afternoon in the heart of downtown Los Angeles, there is a constant flow of book enthusiasts walking in and out of The Last Bookstore.
Considered one of the best bookstores in the world, The Last Bookstore, a touchable celebration of books, remains a huge attraction for Angelenos and out-of-towners alike — and for good reason. It’s a wondrous, mystical, magical place where — through its tons of tomes — a reader can go anywhere in the world.
Currently, in its third incarnation, The Last Bookstore began in 2005 in a downtown Los Angeles loft.
Owner Josh Spencer took his decade of experience selling everything from cars to clothes online and focused instead on his first love — books.
During the revitalization of downtown, The Last Bookstore grew quickly to its current 22,000 square feet of space in the Spring Arts Tower at 5th and Spring streets.
On the bookstore’s website, it says the name, The Last Bookstore, “was chosen with irony but seems more appropriate with each passing day as physical bookstores die out like dinosaurs from the meteoric impact of Amazon and e-books.”
In a video on the website, Spencer said he named it The Last Bookstore “because at the time Borders was going out of business and a lot of other little bookstores were going out of business, and it was in the news a lot. There was press about books going away and e-books taking over.
“People just don’t like to lose something they’ve loved for centuries. I think that the digital age has made print books more popular in a weird way. It’s just made everyone come out of the woodwork who really wants to see books survive.”
While the bookstore’s frontage is nondescript, its interior is an impressive assemblage of 250,000 old, new and classic books displayed in a myriad of ways.
The spacious, multi-level former 100-year-old bank building, boasts a real-life antique bank vault, plus ghosts, vinyl records, local art, a comic book store, five art studios, an epic yarn shop, a famous book tunnel, a mammoth head, 24-foot-high soaring ceilings, and what they call “unexpected nooks of funkiness.”
The popular warehouse-like literary labyrinth with its columnar displays, also buys and sells new and used books and is home to a graphic novel shop and a record shop that houses tens of thousands of vinyl records.
On the huge mezzanine level is the Labyrinth Above the Last Bookstore, Dave Lovejoy Art, Gather Yarn Shop, Fold Gallery and the Spring Arts Collective gallery shops.
In a special room — just to the left as you enter the bookstore — is The Annex, a gated area that houses first editions, collectibles and the extremely rare to expensive art/architecture/photo books. There are also inexpensive, fun things and discounted coffee table books. Private events and parties can be held there.
The popular spot for book lovers, who are often seen lounging on chairs and sofas as they read, is known for its display of an open circle of books where visitors snap photos of themselves peeking or walking through.
While some big-name brick-and-mortar bookstores have gone by the wayside, The Last Bookstore continues to be a huge draw.
Tim Pronovost, who calls himself a “Jack-of-all-trades, is a bookseller, and a book shelver and bundler, who has worked at The Last Bookstore for three years.
“The Last Bookstore is special for a couple of reasons,” he said. “First, there’s the size of it and our great selection. But, the main component is the staff here. Some know a bunch about mystery, some will know a lot about sci-fi, art, or film. We all blend well together here.”
Pronovost said one of the things that set The Last Bookstore apart from other bookstores is the staff’s ability to “play our own music here.”
“What you hear is stuff that we’re curating,” he said. “Our selection of art installations is also interesting. Everything is unique.”
On any given day, Pronovost said “a sea of people” come through the doors.
“I don’t know the exact number, but it’s somewhere in the thousands,” he said.
One of the bookstore’s prized possessions is a piece from New York artist Keith Haring whose pop art emerged from the New York City graffiti subculture of the 1980s. His animated imagery has “become a widely recognized visual language.”
“It’s about $4,000,” Pronovost said. “We also had a signed Basquiat at one time.”
Pronovost said the clientele rambling through The Last Bookstore “simply includes everyone.”
“Some come in here every Sunday,” he said. “There is a gentleman who comes in with his dog every night at 6:30 and then goes out. Kids come in looking for their first book and then there are the people who are looking for books from their past.”
Summer Wrenn moved from South Carolina to Los Angeles three weeks ago to intern for the summer at Fable Entertainment. She looked up bookstores online and found The Last Bookstore.
“I love it,” said Wrenn, who on this day wasn’t looking for anything in particular. “The atmosphere is incredible. I could spend all day in here just looking around.”
Donnie Bland, who hails from southern Illinois, moved to Los Angeles two years ago.
“I had never heard of The Last Bookstore,” he said. “I was living in a house with six other people. I read all the time. Someone mentioned The Last Bookstore. I’ve been coming here for two years now. I like to come here and get books on nonfiction. I’m here two or three times a month.”
Tracy La Mattina is a South Dakota native who moved to Los Angeles four years ago. She found The Last Bookstore through Google.
“I’ve been here a few times,” said the mother of three teens. “I like their selection of used books. What makes this place special is the selection of books they have for everyone. They have everything from the classics to true crime and everything in between.”
It’s true. The Last Bookstore has an impressive variety of books.
The 100,000 books stacked in the “Labyrinth Above the Last Bookstore” section on the mezzanine level sell for a dollar each.
For literature enthusiasts, The Last Bookstore is the place to go. Almost anything you’re looking for is between the books-lined walls.
The Last Bookstore, 453 Spring St., Los Angeles; 213-488-0599. Hours are Monday-Thursday 10 a.m. to 10 p.m., Friday and Saturday 10 a.m. to 11 p.m., Sunday 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.
“Spotlight on L.A.” is a feature profiling little known places within the city. To propose a location for “Spotlight on L.A.,” send an email to email@example.com.
Darlene Donloe is a freelance reporter for Wave Newspapers who covers South Los Angeles. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.