Ray Bradbury’s famed 1953 novel “Fahrenheit 451,” which tells of a dystopian future where books are banned, serves as a warning for many of the evils of censorship as well as the perils of overreliance on technology.
Perhaps that’s why the author of hundreds of short stories and nearly 50 books did his part to help bookstores survive, including Bookfellows/Mystery and Imagination on Brand Boulevard.
Owner Christine Bell said Bradbury appeared at 25 book signings at the shop during a 14-year period. When he read about small businesses having trouble staying open, he phoned Christine and her husband, Malcolm, offering to hold signing events.
“When Ray Bradbury is a friend of somebody, he is always a friend of somebody,” Christine Bell said.
For 12 years, up until his death in 2012, Bradbury celebrated his birthday at the shop, with Bell dancing on the countertops in his honor.
“He’d laugh because when I asked him what he wanted [for his birthday], and he’d say ‘dancing girls, I want dancing girls,’” she said. “He’s part of the fabric of the store and so are many, many other writers and writers’ workshops.”
With the number of book buyers declining, the Bells say their biggest challenge today is just keeping their doors open, rather than just do mail order. But, she says, she and her husband are survivors.
“We’ve always been able to go to mail order and make more money,” she said. “However, we have an open bookshop because we believe in bookshops. Bookshops help keep books alive. They help keep people reading. They help keep the writing arts alive.”
Bradbury is not the only celebrity to pitch in over the years. Academy Award-nominated director Guillermo del Toro recently appeared at a book-signing event in July.
“He’s very generous and wants to keep our bookshop open,” Christine Bell said. “He heard we were having a difficult time and he offered. He was too busy to do it, but he did it, anyway. He did it with no sleep [and] he did it at a great sacrifice to keep our book shop alive.”
As another sales strategy, the couple goes through thousands of books looking for a first edition in good condition to add to their collection.
“We have a bookshop like no one else has,” Christine Bell said. “We’re a destination shop. We’re the only bookstore with a $2 paperback and a $5,000 first-edition book. We’re experts in first editions. People usually choose one or the other.”
And for the first time, Christine Bell said the store is having a holiday sale, which began on Nov. 22 and runs through Dec. 22, with 20% off most used books and 30% off purchases of 10 or more books.
The shop has a long history. About 15 years ago, the Bells decided to move to their current location at 238 N. Brand Blvd. from three blocks away where buyers could buy coffee or grab a bite to eat while browsing through books.
However, with the arrival of the Americana at Brand in Glendale and the traffic that came along with it, Christine Bell said many businesses, including their own, have been hurt.
“When people have a difficult time getting to your shop, they’re less likely to think of it as a pleasant trip and come back,” she said. “Anything that hinders someone’s destination hinders our business.”
On a recent morning, customer Barbara Barr praised the shop’s selections — particularly its mystery novels — and its friendliness. The Eagle Rock resident, who took a 45-minute bus trip to visit the store as well as the Brand Bookshop across the street, chatted with Christine Bell and drank tea.
“This is the nicest, friendliest place — they make you part of the family,” Barr said. “Christine and her husband, if you want a special book, they’ll check on eBay. They will go out of their way for their customers. Not what you’d find at your retail stores.”
Agnessa Kasumyan is a freelance writer. Web producer Sameea Kamal contributed to this story.
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