Situated next to a bar and a cake-decorating company off a busy street in Oceanside sits the unassuming storefront of Connolly & Wade. A modest sign hangs in the window, but that's it by way of decor.
Beyond the front door, however, lies a wide world of dragons and space ships, sorcerers and werewolves. If it's science fiction, fantasy or horror you're hankering for, Connolly & Wade bookstore has it.
More than 40,000 new and used books line the ceiling-high wall shelves. Except for a few expensive hardback first editions housed in a glass case by the cash register, most of the books are inexpensive paperbacks with elaborately detailed and colorful--often lurid--covers.
At Connolly & Wade, the avid reader can find everything from "Of Men and Monsters" by William Tenn to "GoatSong" by Tom Holt. The hard-core sci-fi aficionado can even find the complete "Sword" series by Jennifer Roberson.
Connolly & Wade also carries several monthly trade magazines, including Locus, Aboriginal, Midnight Graffiti and Science Fiction Chronicle. Additional services such as the mailing list, gift certificates, writing workshops, and author signings make Connolly & Wade the largest--if not the only--science fiction bookstore in North County.
Scarcely 4 months old, with the shelves barely in place, the bookstore manages to be comfortable and friendly. A chess board is set up in the back half of the store where customers can plunk down on throw pillows and match wits.
The owner of this specialized haven for sci-fi fanatics is Derek Benson, 20. He bought the store in January from used-book mavens Dan Connolly and Glory Wade. Benson had worked in their Vista store for three years before striking out on his own and paring down the inventory to include just science fiction and fantasy works.
"I'm definitely filling a need," Benson said.
Benson boasts that he already knows the names of most of his customers and their literary preferences. One recent warm afternoon, Benson sat on his stool behind the counter earnestly discussing with a customer the merits of Stephen King's voluminous work.
"He's a hack," charged the customer.
"A successful hack," Benson corrected, and proceeded to rattle off the horror master's recent literary coups.
Benson is in his element in this store. His extensive knowledge of the science fiction market is as much a part of him as his right arm, and he is eager to share that with his patrons.
"I try to read a book a day so I know what I can recommend and what I can't recommend," Benson said. "I can tell a book by its cover art, or the title of the book, so I know where everything is and what we have in stock."
Benson said his inventory, which comes from Avon, Ace, Del Rey Books, Roc and Spectra publishing houses, holds "just the weird stuff."
A typical offering in the horror section is "Howling Mad," the tale of a wolf bitten by a werewolf that turns into a human being every full moon.
But his clientele, Benson insists, are just plain folks. His mailing list includes more than 450 names, from people overseas to serious collectors.
"They don't seem too bizarre," Benson said. "They could pass for normal people any day of the week."
* IF YOU GO: Connolly & Wade, 560 Greenbrier Road in Oceanside, is open from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Thursday; from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Friday; from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday.
What's your favorite secret place in North County? A roadside stop where you can catch a breathtaking view? A special bookstore lined with old volumes? Hot dogs that taste like they came from Coney Island? If you're willing to share your find with your North County neighbors, write to Focus, 400 S. Melrose Drive, Suite 108, Vista CA 92083.