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Page-Turners Are Bound to Look in Long Beach Stores

July 15, 1993|MAX JACOBSON | Max Jacobson is a free-lance writer who contributes regularly to The Times Orange County Edition.

Most of us know Long Beach as a sprawling coastal giant, second only to Los Angeles in girth and muscle. Far fewer among us realize that the city is one of the used-book capitals of the Western Hemisphere. The downtown area and its environs are home to a variety of major used-book emporiums, a diverting excursion for anyone who loves the art of reading.

11 to 11:30: Small is beautiful at Bluff Park Rare Books, a homey shop about two miles east of downtown. Browsers and serious collectors can sit and read on high-backed chairs or on a languid leather sofa in the comfortable lounge area and not be disturbed.

The shop belongs to dealers Joe Hix and Al Hess, who specialize in collectibles and autographs. You'll find things such as a signed photo of Madonna for $250, first editions of classics such as Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys and a good number of other children's books.

All of the roughly 15,000 books are hardcover. The store also prides itself on its ability to do computerized book searches through an international network for only $4.50 per volume. They'll search anything out of print, quote you a purchase price, even arrange delivery on demand.

11:30 to noon: The inventory climbs well into the six figures at Rodden's Used Bookshop, a bright, clean and boxy place closer to the heart of downtown.

The store, open since the early 1950s, belongs to Viola McDonald, who also owns McDonald's Used Bookshop (129 W. 5th St., Long Beach). It's one of the few used-book shops around to carry a large selection of used magazines, including Life, Look, Post and Sports Illustrated, to name a few majors.

The inventory comprises both fiction and nonfiction, including a good deal of paperbacks on subjects such as true crime, mystery, romance, Western, sci-fi and the occult. Books in good condition generally cost about one half of the cover price, and trading is encouraged. (Trading for straight cash is also possible, if you are willing to take about ten cents on the dollar for your books.)

I found books such as George Orwell's "1984," Leo Tolstoy's "Anna Karenina" and various Charles Dickens' paperbacks ($1 apiece) on these well-worn shelves.

Noon to 1: Chef Toribio Prado is an original, and so is his colorful, lively restaurant, a sun-splashed palace of Caribbean camp that has turned Long Beach on its ear.

Cha Cha Cha is an offshoot of the slightly fruity and wildly successful Melrose Avenue eatery, a restaurant that mixes Cuban, Jamaican, African and pan-island sensibilities. Walls are the color of molting tropical birds. Pineapples perch on every table.

Most people begin a meal with silly tropical drinks in tall, cool glasses, then progress to items such as roasted garlic pizza, Jamaican jerk pork (crispy, spicy chunks of fried Jamaican pork with three salsas), camarones negros (fat shrimp in a hot, black pepper sauce served on coconut-infused rice) or an ahi tuna sandwich served with rainbow cabbage.

The staff is lighthearted and energetic, the prices reasonable. Don't miss the ever-changing, always outrageous desserts, things such as homemade ice cream sandwiches, mango cheesecake and tropical sorbets.

1 to 2: Acres of Books is the mother of all used-book stores, a third generation, 13,000-square-foot leviathan containing more than 700,000 volumes, only 2% of which are paperbacks.

The store was founded in 1939 by a retired postal employee, and the rest is Long Beach folklore. One manager said customers come from all over the world to browse. The shop is so big, they market their own T-shirts ($14.95) and sweat shirts ($19.95).

This is a rather dim place: muddy lighting, a stone floor, enormous, densely stacked bookshelves ranging from 8 to 15 feet in height. You'll need time to find books, as filing and shelving is somewhat subjective. The books are generally stacked according to subject.

A few of the more popular topics are the Civil War, American railroads and metaphysics; the store can't keep their hands on enough of these books. You'll also find the best selection of fiction in Southern California, a wonderful cookbook library by the front door and books in a variety of foreign languages.

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