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Louis Epstein, 89; Founded Pickwick Bookshop in 1938

September 15, 1991|JANE FRITSCH | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Louis Epstein, the founder of the old Pickwick Bookshop, once a major attraction on Hollywood Boulevard, died Friday of heart failure at his home in the Hollywood Hills. He was 89.

Epstein was among a dwindling breed of booksellers who are also literary enthusiasts and voracious readers. He stocked not only bestsellers, but also an array of "Best Titles" that he personally selected.

"If a customer comes into Pickwick and asks for a book I don't have," he once said, "I'm ashamed."

Born in a small town in Russia, Epstein emigrated to the United States at the age of 7. He attended Ohio State University and later opened a book store in Long Beach.

In 1938, Epstein opened the Pickwick store in Hollywood and stocked it exclusively with used books. Later he added paperbacks and current titles, and expanded with branches around Southern California.

During World War II, Epstein took book orders for customers who were sent overseas and filled each one personally. One customer recalled that the checks he sent to Epstein were never cashed and he believed that the bookseller intended the books as gifts.

Throughout its time on Hollywood Boulevard, the Pickwick Bookshop was frequented by movie stars, gossip columnists and writers and was the scene of the biggest autographing sessions in the city. When Lauren Bacall signed her book, the line went around the corner and halfway up the block.

Epstein sold the business to B. Dalton bookstores in the early 1970s and retired. A B. Dalton bookstore now occupies the site.

Epstein, a past president of the American Booksellers Assn., remained active in the book business after his retirement.

He is survived by his wife, Eva; his sons, Aaron and Eugene; his sister, Cima Erlich; a granddaughter, Jennifer, and a grandson, Adam.

Services are set for 3 p.m. Monday at Hillside Memorial Park.

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