There’s evidence of libraries existing 5,000 years ago in Mesopotamia and the Nile region in Africa. Then libraries in Ancient Rome gave rise to bookselling with a large demand for religious texts. Fast forward to the modern day bookstore and think about how amazing it is to be able share written texts, whether they document history or create fictitious worlds, all in the same mode.
Record stores, on the other hand, have a much more modern history. The first record store is reported to be Spillers Records in Cardiff, Wales, which opened in 1894. Bookstores and record shops are so easily combined because they speak to similar desires of people wanting either to feel connected or to escape, and in some cases both, whether by reading or listening to literally anything that could be from anyone or anywhere in the world.
I don’t know about you, but I can get lost in a bookstore or a record shop while time seemingly stands still. The idea of being surrounded by little treasures of information with the writings and expressions of so many minds, and so, so much music can keep me entertained for days. While more book focused than a record shop, The Last Bookstore in downtown Los Angeles still combines the joys of both of these ideas and ties it up in a neat, but not-so-little package with the added bonus of art and adventure. The store features a self-described labyrinth of books intertwined with art gallery shops on the second level. What’s more interesting is that it occupies an old bank, including the vault, in the Spring Arts Tower at 5th and Spring Street. There is truly a unique experience with every turn.
The difference in accessing books or records in stores rather than digitally, is you have a physical connection to them. Our brains react differently to things we can touch versus things we see or hear. Also for some of us, it’s a nostalgia for what we’ve known most of our lives. In many ways these stores are not just about buying products, but about the way we experience the products. There’s no doubt these stores are fewer and farther between, meaning the ones that still exist have a big responsibility to keep creating and preserving these experiences for people.
If there’s anything to learn from modern consumerism, especially in a world where the trend of online shopping a la Amazon and other companies seems to be catering to the convenience-seeking side of our culture, it’s that retail stores need to create an experience to draw people there and keep them coming back. I think of it as the cafe or coffee shop model (think Starbucks or nearly any cafe in Europe), where you can sit, read a book, work on your screenplay, hold a meeting, or whatever it is you want to do for hours, all without ever buying anything. These are semi-public spaces that fill a void in our society. I say semi-public because they are privately owned, yet they are inviting in a way that feels public and gives people a real sense of place.
Now more than ever there is an even stronger need for these places that allow for the very interaction we ironically feel further and further away from every time we “connect” to the digital world. The Last Bookstore is one of those places. Feel free to share other similar places you know of like this and enjoy some of my photos from my recent visit there below.