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THE CHANGING FACE OF DOWNTOWN : Surviving Change : Service Is Secret of Success

January 04, 1987|TIM WATERS

Jerry Gusha recalls the day several years ago when the middle-aged woman walked into his store, searching for a copy of the book "Yugoslavs in Washington State." The woman had heard about the book through friends and wanted to purchase a copy because her grandparents' picture was in it.

After some research, Gusha discovered that the book was published by the Washington State Historical Society. An order was placed, and the woman had her book three weeks later.

Another satisfied customer.

"We get almost every type of request for special orders," the 34-year-old owner of Williams' Book Store in San Pedro explained the other day. "You name it."

Gusha recently took over the small, 78-year-old bookstore, buying out his mother's share in a store that is a local landmark. The mother and son purchased the business together in 1980 from the founder's daughter.

For the past three decades, the store has been located on Pacific Avenue in San Pedro's downtown--an area that merchants have been struggling to revitalize, and one that is still remembered by outsiders for the beer bars and brothels that once catered to sailors. The brothels and many of the bars were torn down more than 15 years ago to make room for redevelopment that is still going on.

The reason the store has prospered, according to both mother and son, is not only because of regular customers who have traded there for years, but also because they make a point to offer better, more personal services than the larger, chain bookstores offer.

"We give our customers things that Crown or B. Dalton can't," said Anne Gusha, 66, who continues to work in the store. " . . . If someone gives me an order for a book Sunday afternoon before we close, I can have it for them on Tuesday if our wholesaler has it." The Gushas also cater to the many ethnic groups that live in San Pedro's, stocking certain books and other items that most bookstores do not. For instance, the store sells Christmas cards in languages ranging from Czech to Vietnamese. This year, cards in 20 different languages were available at the store.

"In this town, we have almost any nationality you can think of, and then we get a lot of people (of different nationalities) off the ships," Jerry Gusha said.

The store also carries a large number of books chronicling local history. And while the store's biggest-selling paperback at present is one that also appears on the national best-seller lists--"Women Who Love Too Much"--the store also has some hot sellers of its own that it stocks primarily to serve area residents.

Besides a cookbook published by the Friends of the San Pedro Library, a Monopoly-like game about San Pedro put out by the local YWCA also is selling like hot cakes. "We've had people buy six at a time," Anne Gusha said.

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