"Do you have a detailed map of the Russell Islands?"
This question was asked by a customer at Maps to Anywhere Travel Bookstore in Hollywood. He said he'd been everywhere in this area and had yet to find a map good enough to allow him to retrace his sojourn to the Russells back in World War II. "I won't be surprised if you don't have one," he said as an afterthought.
"I'm sure I do. Just give me a minute to find it," said owner Larry Doffing. He went into another room and rummaged through some files. Within five minutes he had produced a topographical map of the Russells, a group of small islands 30 miles northwest of Guadalcanal in the western Pacific, which had been occupied by U.S. troops in 1943.
Doffing says he has the most complete supply of travel maps, books, tapes and related publications of any retail outlet in the United States. He's been in business for two years at 1514 N. Hillhurst Ave., up a stairway at the side of the building, then through the third door on the right.
'A Labor of Love'
But business isn't as good as he'd like it to be. Doffing calls his enterprise to date "a labor of love." He made his money in video distribution and has poured his savings into the business with high hopes of making a living over the long haul.
And his stock is impressive: He lists more than 3,000 book titles, 10,000 maps, tapes of 60 languages, videos, dictionaries and phrase books, 40 types of globes and travel accessories ranging from voltage converters and water purifiers to money belts, Swiss army knives and map pins.
A box on the floor is stuffed with maps and brochures. It's a "freebie box" for those who buy $20 or more in merchandise; they can help themselves to a little bonus.
In stock are medical manuals, access guides for the handicapped, time wheels to figure hours of the day in any given port, money tables to calculate foreign exchange rates or tips, electrical adapters, bird books, all the Thomas Bros. guides and maps. He has all the major travel guidebooks (Fodor's, "Let's Go," Frommer's, etc.), even, Doffing says, a complete set of Thomas Cook Continental Time Tables of the train schedules in Europe and the Thomas Cook Overseas Time Tables giving the rest of the world's train schedules.
The shop has 120 books on hiking alone, in places ranging from the Himalayas to Baja California; 26 guides to the waterways of England and France; cookbooks; biking guides; 150 bed and breakfast guidebooks, and dozens of foreign language dictionaries from tiny phrasebooks to unabridged tomes.
You'll also find 256 books on Great Britain and more than 300 on the United States, including 30 on New York City alone. And Doffing claims to have "a full set of maps on every country in the world." Those of Great Britain include Ordnance Survey Maps of special interest to hikers and others who want to travel well off tourist routes.
As packed as the two-room shop is, there's not enough space for Doffing's entire stock, so he only displays a couple of copies of each book title and a small sampling of maps. But besides the shop he has a warehouse full of merchandise. If you don't see what you want, ask. Doffing figures he can have it for you the next day.
Lectures, slide shows and travel seminars are regularly offered at the bookstore. Store hours are 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. weekdays and noon to 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.
The western San Fernando Valley has its own supplier of maps at 21919 Sherman Way in Canoga Park. Maps Etc., in business for almost three years, sells a plentiful supply of atlases, wall maps, globes, topographical maps and travel maps, along with some guidebooks and travel gadgets.
The owner, Debbie Tibor, is the daughter of Hy Yuda, who sold business maps and Thomas Bros. guides to businesses for 20 years as Perry Supply Co. When Tibor joined the company she was interested in opening a retail outlet. The store accounts for at least half the business now, she said. Schools and students, as well as travelers, are big customers.
Maps Etc. stocks a complete supply of topographical maps of Southern California and the Sierra, and can order any others of the Western states within a week. The store also does a big business in globes.
In stock are maps of 2,500 countries and cities, aeronautical and nautical charts of the United States, travel gadgets and several hundred travel books. Antique map reproductions also are available.
If a customer came in and asked for a map that's not in stock, of anyplace in the world, Tibor said: "If one exists, we'll find it. Our motto is service."
The hours are 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. weekdays and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday; closed Sunday.
Close to the Beach
A Manhattan Beach travel bookstore, the Travel Gallery, 1007 Manhattan Ave., has been in business since 1986. Owner Donna Gibbs isn't certain how many books she has in stock, but, "I have at least one on every state and every country that's visitable."
With Gibbs it's a "labor of love" situation. Obviously she enjoys her work, but she hasn't yet passed the break-even point. She stocks travel books, maps and accessories, some displayed on handsome shelves that her husband made in his workshop. Her daughter and daughter-in-law help out in the store and with the bookkeeping.
Much of the business is the walk-by kind, as the store is close to the Strand and the pier, drawing the weekend stroller and beach brunch crowd. Gibbs is also a good source of travel advice; she was a travel agent before opening her store, and she loves to help plan trips.
The store hosts occasional travel slide shows and talks by travel experts. Hours are 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday. If you want a book that's not in stock, Gibbs said she does special orders. "I'll order anything for anybody."