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September 14, 1986

It was nice to see an extensive article about independent bookstores in a publication like The Los Angeles Times.

There were a couple of points about yours that mystified me, however. I could not help wondering what makes George Mitrovich, whom I know best for his banal column in Newsline, an authority on "great" bookstores.

The article did point up the naivete of English professors with regard to the realities of operating a small bookstore. A bookseller faces exactly the same problem as any other retailer, which is to turn over his inventory often enough to pay his employees, the rent, and hope to take home as much as the average postal worker--let alone an English professor.

Mr. McCaffery refers to the work of Robert Coover, for example. I do not share his admiration of Coover, but I have stocked a couple of his books. Two each of two titles. I managed to sell three of the four books over a period of two years. If all my stock moved at this rate I would, of course, have been out of business in less than two years.

I agree, however, that a bookstore, if it has pretensions, if not of greatness of at least being of some value to the world of good books and to the community, cannot, unlike a shoe store, gas station, or 7-Eleven, make these kinds of economic considerations its sole concern. If it is the source of the owner's livelihood, however, and not his hobby, they have to be of some concern.

I think it would be very difficult to establish a "great" bookstore today unless it were a corporate write-off (Scribner's, HBJ?) or a rich person's toy. If Mr. Mitrovich doubts this, I suggest that he borrow a million dollars and give it a try. Not $80,000 to $100,000--we're talking about a great bookstore, one that stocks the most obscure titles that Mr. Mitrovich can think of. In hard cover.

Of course, if Mr. Mitrovich were to invest his million dollars in an apartment building he could expect a return of at least $80,000 a year, without lifting a finger. If he insists on owning a great bookstore, he might, if he is very lucky, realize half of that in about 10 years.

If he sets his sights a bit lower--say an investment of $50,000--and he is more interested in Jorge Borges, Franz Kafka, Marcel Proust and Teresa of Avila, than Irma Bombeck, Sidney Sheldon, Jackie Collins and Irving Wallace, he should, at the very least, be prepared to devote 60 hours a week to his less-than-great bookstore for those 10 years.

Most important of all, it would be essential that, if he does not have an outside income, he should find a good paying job for his wife.

I am speaking, quite literally, from experience.


San Diego

(Peccolo is the proprietor of The Blue Door bookstore in Hillcrest.)

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