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The Culinary Library : * Janet Jarvits' bookstore is the only one in the Valley entirely devoted to cookbooks. It's a cornucopia of titles.

March 18, 1994|BRENDA REES | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Brenda Rees is a Glendale-based writer

BURBANK — Janet Jarvits realized her dreams were getting too big for her when she couldn't sleep nights. It wasn't because she was anxious about the future, but rather that she was losing valuable living space.

"I had books everywhere," Jarvits recalls. "I could barely get around my living room and kitchen. I had to move books off my bed at night to sleep."

Jarvits cleaned up her room last May, when she opened the only bookstore in the San Fernando Valley area entirely devoted to the best-selling books of all time: cookbooks.

"People love cookbooks," Jarvits says. "I know chefs who read them in bed at nights like they would a novel."

Browsing through Jarvits' tiny store on South San Fernando Boulevard near Angeleno Avenue in Burbank is like taking a walk through time and culture. You can imagine Julia Child enjoying "Cooking as Therapy--How to Keep Your Souffle Up," or Wolfgang Puck engrossed with "The Lewd Food Book of Aphrodisiacs."

After recently acquiring nearly 10,000 books from the private collection of chef and author Helen E. Brown, Jarvits, 27, has made her used-book store a cornucopia of titles and subjects. She's got everything from the simple (traditional Betty Crocker) to the ridiculous ("How to Cook for Your Cat") to the sublime ("Foods From Bible Days"). If we eat it, she's got it.

Jarvits describes the three types of customers she draws. "A lot of people want a specific book. They'll say, 'My mother used this book, do you have it?' " Browsers come in just to look. And people researching a subject come in for help. "Literary books like 'The Fifteenth Century Cookery Book' or 'Dining with Sherlock Holmes' key into specific periods by how people ate," she explains.

Jarvits, who graduated from Occidental College with a degree in English literature, says her love of cookbooks comes more from a historical and sociological bent, rather than a culinary one. One of her favorite books is "The Anthropologist's Cookbook," a field guide to what native people such as Pygmies and aborigines ate centuries ago and eat today.

"It's very comfortable in Janet's store; it's not stuffy," says Susan Staples, a cookbook collector. Jarvits located for Staples the rare English version of "The Alice B. Toklas Cookbook" that includes the famous unedited "Hash Brownie" recipe. "It was signed too!" Staples exclaims.

So how did Jarvits become the curator of lost cookbooks?

"I didn't plan this at all," she says with a laugh. After graduating from college in 1988, Jarvits worked at a publishing house, but when the company moved out of the area, she found a job at Bond Street Books, which is two doors down from her own store. Here she discovered her passion. "Little by little, I realized I enjoyed talking with the customers about older books," she remembers.

The turning point for her came when a colleague made her a deal she couldn't refuse--40 boxes of books from a recent auction, for only $200. In the collection there were enough cookbooks for her to start the library in her bedroom. That was four years and thousands of books ago.

"It's always fun going into Janet's store," says Kathleen Scopaz, a student at the Westlake Culinary Institute. Scopaz showed Jarvits her instructor's suggested reading list, with her own added selections.

"It was a huge list, and Janet had all but two of the books," Scopaz says. "I was amazed. And her prices are good." Jarvits says her prices are generally 20% lower than other used-book stores.

Jarvits offers free cookbook searches for obscure out-of-print books, having developed an intricate computerized cross-reference system. Once a month she'll attend various book and antiquarian fairs, searching for customer requests, re-establishing ties with her book-dealer friends and increasing her own store's inventory.

Jarvits accepts trade-ins for credit, although most customers leave with as many books as they came with. She also runs a mail-order service with quarterly catalogues describing additions to her library, and has 400 people on the mailing list, she says.

WHERE AND WHEN

What: Janet Jarvits, Bookseller.

Location: 138 S. San Fernando Blvd., Burbank.

Hours: 1 to 6 p.m. Tuesdays and Saturdays, or by appointment.

Call: (818) 848-4630.

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