- Wife of the Gods
- Children of the Street
- Murder at Cape Three Points
- Gold of our Fathers
- Death by His Grace
- Death at the Voyager Hotel
From time to time, I blog about an independent bookstore of note, e.g. Marcus Books. A couple of weeks ago on October 14, I had a book signing at Vroman’s Bookstore in my hometown of Pasadena, California for the launch of Death By His Grace, Inspector Dawson novel #5. As Vroman’s approaches its 123rd birthday, it’s fitting to talk about its historical and cultural importance in Southern California generally and Pasadena in particular.
A brief history of Vroman’s Bookstore
The oldest and largest independent bookstore in Southern California, Vroman’s is named after Adam Clark Vroman, who founded the store in 1894. The original Vroman’s Book and Photographic Supply store was located at 60 E. Colorado St in Pasadena, California. Now it’s at 695 E. Colorado Blvd.
Mr. Vroman loved books and valued giving back to his community, which remains a core principle of the bookstore till t0day.
He was born in 1856 in La Salle Illinois. When he moved to Pasadena in 1892, he was hoping that a change in climate would help preserve the health of his infirm wife, Esther. Regrettably, that wasn’t to be the case, and she died two years later. Vroman wanted to remain in Pasadena and he opened the city’s first bookstore on November 15, 1894 in partnership with stationer J.S. Glassock. At the time, one hotel, a blacksmith shop and a butcher comprised the business district. Mr. Vroman was also a passionate photographer, specializing in scenes of the American West and his portraits of the Hopi Indians and other cultures of the American Southwest. When Mr. Vroman died in 1916, he had built a solid business with loyal employees in whom he had shown deep interest. His friend and associate George F. Howell, became president of the newly incorporated bookstore when Vroman died. Allan David Sheldon, Vroman’s godson, succeeded Howell in 1920. The Sheldons continued to own and run Vroman’s and the bookstore’s present chairman is Joel Sheldon.
Mr. Vroman’s legacy of philanthropy has continued. The store has supported causes through food drives, holiday gift drives, free HIV testing, bone marrow donor match drives, pet adoption days, and the Vroman’s Gives Back program. Vroman’s Gives Back is a charity program that donates a portion of customers’ purchases to local nonprofits, including public radio stations, arts centers, family services, and programs supporting literacy.
Vroman’s Bookstore author events
Like other bookstores, Vroman’s holds book discussions and signings, but most bookstores don’t have the luxury of space that Vroman’s has on its second floor for author events.
Every week the Vroman’s bestsellers are displayed. During the week after an author’s book signing, it’s common for his or her book to hold a high placing on the list, even if short-lived.
The other bestseller display in the store derives from the Los Angeles Times bestseller list.
Vroman’s treats its local authors very well, but national and international powerhouse writers have flocked to the bookstore too, including Louise Penny (Canada), Jo Nesbø [pronounced “You Nes-buh”](Norway), President Bill Clinton, President Jimmy Carter, Irving Stone, Upton Sinclair, Ray Bradbury, David Sedaris, Salman Rushdie, Walter Mosely, Joan Didion, Barbara Walters, Anne Rice, Neil Gaiman, and Justice Sonia Sotomayor.
Happily for me, a mystery writer, the Mystery section of the store is one of the largest.
I’m no financial wizard, but adding diverse merchandise besides books to a bookstore is a smart move, particularly during times in which the paper book is “under attack,” such as when the Kindle e-reader arrived in 2007 and doomsayers predicted the imminent death of the paper book. Clearly, the prediction has proved wrong, thank goodness, but it doesn’t hurt to stock “supportive” merchandise.
Vroman’s Bookstore and children
Vroman’s has recognized the importance of investing in children, and it has a large kids’ section.
Every Wednesday and Saturday at 10 AM, the bookstore’s own Mr. Steve holds a children’s storytime. The smaller Hastings Ranch store also has a kids’ storytime on Tuesday mornings.
Getting children into reading early is a way to ensure that generations to come will continue to read, which means Vroman’s Bookstore will continue for another 120 years, and 120 after that, which is good news for authors and readers alike.