Note: this tribute was too important to both of us for just one of us to write it. So we decided we’d both contribute to it. Anyone who also misses Dutton’s should feel free to write in and add memories and musings to the comments at the bottom of the blog.
You wouldn’t think a furniture store would upset people so much.
But lately a lot of people have been coming up to me. “Have you seen it?” one said. “I almost cried. It’s a furniture store now.”
“It” of course is the former site of Dutton’s bookstore, a meeting place, sanctum, mini-vacation, last minute gift-resource, and support system all rolled into one.
Well, not exactly one. Part of Dutton’s charm was that it wasn’t just one store, but a series of smaller shops laid out around a central courtyard. Regulars quickly got a feel for where everything was. My kids always made a beeline for the northeast entrance where the children’s books were. Over the years, they graduated from the picture books on the courtyard side to the beginning readers one aisle over, to the middle readers another aisle over from that, to the grand finale of the YA novels against the far wall.
Meanwhile I’d be poking through the stacks and shelves of cookbooks that someone had brilliantly decided belonged just a few feet away from the children’s books. It was one of the only stores where I could look at something that interested ME while my kids were kept busy, rather than finding myself a prisoner of the kids’ section, forced to page through Eloise for the millionth time. (It was great having the diversion of those cookbooks but also occasionally expensive. I have a cookbook habit that in no way correlates to my actual cooking experiences.)
But of course my favorite part of Dutton’swas the fiction section, over on the west side. It ran almost the whole length of the courtyard and you could pace your way past the long tables of new releases (like a candy aisle to most of us: how could you resist them? They all looked so good) to the back of that room where things got progressively dustier, messier, and more interesting as you went along. There was a young man who worked there who knew where everything was–and I mean everything, down to each individual copy of each individual book–and that was a good thing because there were so many books that the alphabetical order was occasionally compromised by the cramming in of new arrivals.
If you’re a true booklover, this is the kind of bookstore you dream about, unique, uncompromising, as messy and unpredictable and satisfying as real life. Add to all that a well-stocked non-fiction section, an information desk that actually had real people with real knowledge about books, a gift-wrapping area that was always manned (well, sometimes you had to ask, but someone was always available to wrap)–I can’t tell you how many last-minute desperation birthday presents I grabbed there on my way to a party–and a coffee shop that not only served good coffee but actually had a gluten-free pastry offering (a big deal in my family since my son has Celiac Disease) and of course truly decadent brownies and Danish–well, you had something pretty wonderful there.
Authors loved Dutton’s because readings took place (weather permitting) in that nice big, airy courtyard, and if you’ve been to a book signing inside a small, cramped store, you’d realize how wonderful that was. I remember some pretty lovely evenings sitting out under what would have been stars if we didn’t live in LA, listening to someone talented read from her book, while I sipped wine and basically felt blissed out.
I don’t think anyone around here will stop missing Dutton’s. It’s left a real hole in the Brentwood neighborhood. And while we have a couple of wonderful independent bookstores still left (my personal favorite being Village Books in the Palisades), it’s incredibly sad to lose one of the good ones.
Kim spent even more time at Dutton’s than I did (well, she lived practically within walking distance). Here’s her tribute:
While I live within a mile of Dutton’s, the first time I walked there was this morning to take a picture of the last sad little Dutton’s signs (the larger ones were sold at auction the last day the store was open).
Dutton’s was my refuge and the first time I heard it might close, I felt gutted. When it actually closed, it felt like a large part of my community was gone; it reminded me of Bob Edwards’ last day on Morning Edition, there was a hole in my daily routine. Dutton’s is where I clocked miles doing laps around the new fiction table, sometimes while waiting for my daughter to finish preschool, sometimes just walking along touching all of the covers, and occasionally to distract myself from the latest irritation in life. It was my office away from home, I would draft legal documents all day and then spend the next morning reviewing them in the cafe with a latte and fabulous music in the background (Doug is a classical music expert, soon I’ll post about his classical music book group), occasionally taking a break to eavesdrop on the neighborhood chatter.
Dutton’s was the first place my kids felt comfortable asking for help, several times I was surprised to receive a message from the store that a book my daughter, in elementary school, had ordered was ready for pick up. Apparently after talking with the children’s books employee, they decided on a few my daughter would like and ordered them, I would learn about it when the book arrived. For a school project, my daughter had to design a business that helped others and she was given a budget of $1,000,000. She decided to open a bookstore that taught people to read. I made an appointment with Doug and they sat for 45 minutes planning the store, the types of books and supplies they needed and what stock to offer (I learned mysteries sell well and she needed to include them). My daughter used the opportunity to ask Doug to start a girl’s book club, immediately. She also informed him that while she loved the essay contest (mostly because she won), it was time for a short story contest. Doug was terrific working with her and brainstorming ideas, he followed up on the project all the way through the grading process and was going to put it in the store window, but project was returned after the store closed.
One of my favorite gifts that I have given was to Claire for her 40th birthday. I wanted to tease her about her reading choices, so I bought a small trash can and dragged it up and down the aisles of Duttons creating the perfect collection of pure escapiest reading. The Dutton’s employees helped me arrange the books in the trash can, then overflowing the trash can, and propping the the lid open with ribbon and confetti spilling everywhere. We all had fun putting it together.
My son experienced his first author reading one autumn evening in the courtyard. He was eight and Michael Chabon was on tour promoting Summerland, a novel about baseball and aliens for adults and adolescents. We arrived too late to get a chair (I was always too late to get a chair, I considered bringing my own like when I go to a kid’s soccer game), but Kyle was entranced by the reading and the book. He patiently stood in line to have his book signed, and Chabon stopped and talked with him quite awhile about baseball and the books he read at the same age. My son came away with his first signed edition of a book and I left happy that his first experience with an author was a meaningful one.
It’s hard for me to believe the store is gone, for good, that I’m not just going through a busy patch and haven’t stopped by. As I’ve talked with bookstore people around the country the last few months, several have asked where I’m from and then commented about the loss of Dutton’s. It was a great bookstore and the community is less without it.