Acres may close last chapter
By Karen Robes, Staff Writer
Article Launched: 04/08/2008 06:59:08 AM PDT
Phil and Jackie Smith, owners of Acres of Books on Long Beach Boulevard, have agreed to sell the store s large lot to the Long Beach Redevelopment Agency for about $2.8 million. Relocation plans for the iconic store are uncertain.
LONG BEACH - For locals like Stan Poe and S&e Reed, Acres of Books has been more than a bookstore to them.
The storefront on 240 Long Beach Blvd. has been a longtime source for researchers, writers and book enthusiasts who have combed its acres of dusty shelves for hours hoping to score rare specialized tomes and hard-to-find first editions.
Writer Ray Bradbury once said Acres "is the best walk-through multimedia experience, if not on Earth, if not in all America, at least in the western part of the United States."
"For book lovers, a lot of (coming to Acres) was the experience," Reed said. "You could get a book anywhere, but it's the smell of the bookstore, the smell of the old books, the store cat, the way you can get lost in it and escape the everyday. It's so much more than getting a book. It's the book-buying, book-browsing experience and Acres is one of the last places to do so."
But the iconic bookstore with a million books may have penned the ending to its storied life.
After more than four decades at the site, owners Phil and Jackie Smith have agreed to sell the 12,000-square-foot lot for about $2.8 million to the Long Beach Redevelopment Agency.
The property on which Acres sits is slated to be part of a proposed mixed-use project bordered by Broadway, Long Beach Boulevard, Third Street and Elm Avenue. It will include commercial space, housing and an art center where local works can be displayed and art-related events can be hosted. The project also could include involvement with Cal State Long Beach in terms of class offerings and student housing, said Craig Beck, executive director of the Redevelopment Agency.
"We think it would be a very dynamic project and a real asset for the downtown," Beck said.
He added that the city will have to address the historic nature of the site.
The agreement - which city officials and store owners spent 12 to 18 months negotiating - includes the land purchase and relocation costs and is expected to go before the agency board for approval as early as April 21, Beck said.
The agreement allows the owners additional parking and the ability to stay at the location rent-free for 12 months after escrow closes - anticipated on or before May 1 - to give them time to relocate if they choose to do so, Beck said.
For co-owner Jackie Smith, who has worked at the bookstore since 1976, the lifelong dream of working at Acres has clashed with the reality of her industry.
"It's all I ever wanted to do and my heart is broken," she said Monday. "I didn't want the bookstore to go away but reality speaks. I'm sure the buggy-whip makers didn't want horses to go away."
Many bookstores like Acres of Books have been facing extinction in recent years. Gone are independents like the Book Baron in Anaheim, which closed its doors after 27 years, and Midnight Special, which amid rising rents on Santa Monica's Third Street Promenade was forced to shutter in 2002 after more than 30 years. Closing this month is Dutton's Brentwood, which is shutting on April 30 after 24 years in business.
Smith, who has been looking for potential relocation spots, attributed waning interest to new media culture.
"In general, the book business is a (buggy) whip," she said. "Forty years ago, you had three TV channels and then books in your spare time. Now you've got 300 channels and the Internet and your computer games and on and on and on and there's much less time for reading."
She also spoke of the rising role the Internet has played in the industry.
"Amazon and the Internet bookstores have done a great deal of damage to the brick-and-mortar stores," she said. "You don't have to pay employees and employee taxes and business licenses."
It's not just a fading interest in books, said Reed, who co-owns Open, an independent used bookstore on Fourth Street.
"If you're looking for a specific book, you can now find it (online) in Kentucky versus having to travel around the South Bay asking or calling around," she said. "You don't have to do that anymore. It's changing everything because relatively low per book price and significantly high retail storage price - that's not a winning combination."
Some in the community grieved Acres' possible closure, including Stan Poe, president of Long Beach Heritage.
"It's a terrible loss to the community and to Southern California to lose such an iconic bookstore like that," he said.
He remembered when independent bookstores dotted the city 40 years ago. He has seen them fold over time as rent grew more expensive.
"This was a very well-read town," he said. "With Acres of Books, they owned the building. It's probably what saved them for so long. They weren't at the whim of a money-hungry landlord. Acres of Books is probably one of the last ones around."
Store manager Raun Yankovich said he cried when he was told about the decision.
"The employees are devastated, especially long-time employees," he said. "It means a lot to me because I've met so many wonderful people here. ... We talk about film, we talk about art, a little bit about politics but mainly literature. It's not just a bookstore."
The move has some disillusioned about redevelopment.
"It's sad that they don't get to be part of that development," Reed said. "They've been a part of Long Beach history for so long and they just don't get to be there and for what? To build something else that everybody thinks is really cool? But we really had something."
The Smiths said they are far from being out of books. They are still getting in new titles.
"We quit buying and started taking books in trade so we could run down the inventory in case we find a place to move," Jackie Smith said, adding that they should know by October what they plan to do with the business.
Meanwhile, Jackie Smith reflected on what doing business in Long Beach has meant to her.
"I think the community has provided so much more to me," Jackie Smith said. "I have been able to deal with the wonderful world of book people and readers and writers and I've just gotten so much from them.
"It's just been a joy every day to be there. It's always been something I wanted to do and I'm so grateful to have been able to do it for so long."
Article printed courtesy of Press Telegram Website.
When will Cities learn that some things in life are more important and beneficial than how much property tax money can be collected. Probably never! And that's the most shameful unfortunate part of it!
Be Mindful! Be Prayerful! Be Careful!
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